Friday, November 16, 2007

Why I won't be rolling my Oracle call options

The November call option I wrote will be expiring this weekend and the December option is likely to expire too (35% chance). But instead of rolling them forward, I now plan on hanging on to my Oracle shares for a bit longer. I listened to the recent OpenWorld keynotes and also the analyst meeting and I think I've ignored some significant real options that Oracle might exploit.

According to my discount cash flow models, Oracle is well within the low range of its fair value. The market is assuming 10% growth for 10 years or 14% growth for 5 years. Safra Catz, Oracle's CFO, has set 20% as the goal and hinted at 26% as a possibility. Normally, there would be reasons to be skeptical of these claims, but Oracle has some unique attributes that make this sort of growth possible and even likely.

To begin with, much of Oracle's revenues are incompressible. In other words, once a client begins to depend on HR, accounting, CRM or other software as a critical element in their business, it isn't possible to reduce the licensing stream going to Oracle without shutting down altogether. As a result, there is a floor on how much revenues can fall. Also, the natural tendency is for margins to increase over time rather than decrease. Continuing licenses are nearly cost free to Oracle because of scale.

Now assuming there is a recession this year and next, Oracle will have a harder time growing organically. But the revenue stream shouldn't fall too much and it will have an opportunity to either lower costs or buy up other companies cheaply. If the recession doesn't occur or is mild, Oracle has the option to expand its offerings organically in addition. So because of the nature of its business, Oracle has more flexibility than most companies to deal with downturns. That flexibility represents a real option that I hadn't accounted for in the past. Being able to grow earnings in the face of economic headwinds could be a huge advantage.

I know I've flip-flopped on Oracle lately. Part of the reason is that its share price has been jumping around my lower edge of my value estimates. It hasn't gotten so expensive that I feel the need to sell right away, and it isn't so cheap I'm interested in buying more.

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