Monday, March 28, 2011

Oracle, Adobe, Red Hat Show Software Leverage

In theory the software business model is an attractive one. Write a piece of software. Once released, the production cost of each new copy is new zero. Sell enough copies to cover your R&D cost and your operating overhead, and you break even. After that you (and your stockholders) get rich, since each copy costs you nothing. Compare that to hardware based technology, where there (usually) is nowhere near as much profit leverage. Oracle (ORCL) , Adobe (ADBE) and Red Hat (RHT) all showcased the strength of this model when they announced their latest quarter results. Oracle reported fiscal Q3 ending February 28, 2011 on March 23. Partly because of its acquisition of Sun, revenues were up 37% y/y to $8.76 billion and net income was up 78% to $2.12 billion. [See Oracle analyst call Q3 2011] Adobe reported fiscal Q1 ending March 4, 2011 on March 22. Revenues were up 20% y/y to $1.03 billion. Net income was up 84% to $234.6 million. [See Adobe analyst call Q1 2011] Red Hat reported fiscal Q4 ending February 28, 2011 on March 23. Revenues were up 25% y/y to $244.8 million. Net income was $33.5 million, up 43% y/y. [See Red Hat analyst call Q4 2011] Note that for all three companies, profits (net income) were up on a larger percentage basis than revenues. That is the software model: once costs are covered, incremental sales have very high profit margins. Of course, if it were that simple, everyone would start a software company. Software sales are very competitive. Each of these three companies is the market leader in its domain: Oracle with database and business intelligence; Adobe with content generation; Red Hat with enterprise-grade Linux. Fail to make sales and you can lose money, or just scrape by. Naturally hardware companies are very interested in selling more of their own software with their machines, as the higher margins help the bottom line. IBM and HP, for instance, sell software and services, not just computers. One interesting play would be the small storage company Dot Hill. It has adding storage management software to its offerings, which should have a positive effect on its margins in 2011 and beyond. [See also my Dot Hill analysis page] I don't own any of the above mentioned stocks except Dot Hill, although I have owned Red Hat in the past. There are many issues to consider before buying a software stock, including its trailing and future-looking price-to-earnings ratios. So keep diversified!

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