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7/11/2004
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Earnings Indicate Trouble For Enterprise Software Vendors

PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems, and Veritas Software have said revenue and earnings for the quarter ended June 30 will fall short of earlier estimates.

Enterprise-software vendors are reporting preliminary revenue numbers for the June quarter below expectations--far below, in some cases. Have IT buyers suddenly closed their checkbooks or are they intent on striking more-favorable deals, delaying contract signings and driving down prices on those that do get completed?

A number of major software vendors, including PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems, and Veritas Software, have said revenue and earnings for the quarter ended June 30 will fall short of earlier estimates. BMC, FileNet, Informatica, and JDA Software issued similar warnings.

"We were surprised by what's happening," says Kaushik Roy, an analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group who covers enterprise storage system vendors, including Veritas and EMC Corp. Sales cycles, the time it takes vendors to close deals, suddenly got longer late in the quarter in the U.S. market, Roy says. Why that happened isn't clear, he says.

The reduced revenue and earnings estimates are partly the result of IT buyers negotiating more favorable deals, a Merrill Lynch report says. A competitive IT market gives buyers more clout, and the resulting pricing pressure means vendors get less revenue per sale, the report says.

And the days of mega-million-dollar software deals are past, says Merrill Lynch analyst Karen Russillo. IT users "aren't over-buying like they used to," she says. Companies are purchasing software in smaller increments for narrowly defined projects or turning to vendors such as Salesforce.com Inc. that provide hosted software on an as-needed basis. "The world is moving more toward an on-demand model," Russillo says.

Siebel stunned Wall Street this week, saying it expects to report revenue of $301 million for the quarter, a sharp drop from the $353 million analysts expected. License revenue, a key growth indicator, will be $95 million--far below the anticipated $120 million to $140 million. The customer-relationship-management application vendor will disclose final results for the quarter July 21. "These disappointing results were primarily due to unexpected delays in purchasing decisions by certain prospects and customers near the end of the quarter," Siebel said in its warning.

PeopleSoft expects to post revenue of $655 million to $665 million for the quarter, down from its April forecast of $675 million to $695 million and analyst forecasts of $692 million. The vendor, which will disclose final results July 27, reduced its expected earnings from between 20 and 22 cents per share to 13 to 15 cents per share.

President and CEO Craig Conway, in a statement, blamed PeopleSoft's shortfall on publicity generated by Oracle's antitrust trial, which stems from Oracle's protracted effort to buy PeopleSoft. "We believe the adverse impact to our business has been substantial, with even greater impact this past month," Conway said.

Testimony at the trial showed that vendors offer deeper discounts to potential customers when more software companies are competing. Michael Gorriz, VP of IT business systems at DaimlerChrysler AG, testified that he negotiated favorable prices for PeopleSoft products by threatening to choose SAP software.

Wall Street was quick to punish many of the companies' stocks. Veritas lost more than a third of its value Tuesday--the biggest decline in that day's Standard & Poor's index--after the storage-management software company said its sales for the quarter would be $475 million to $485 million, below its earlier forecast of $490 million. Veritas echoed Siebel in blaming the lower-than-expected results on a slowdown in U.S. orders at the end of the quarter.

The damage wasn't limited to application and infrastructure software vendors: Internet service provider NetEase Inc. and communications chipmaker Conexant Systems Inc. reported disappointing preliminary results for the June quarter. Analysts say the slowdown is likely to continue through the current quarter.

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