SAP Zapped … and It Might Be Tapped

by Tom Taulli | January 16, 2013 2:35 pm

German business software company SAP (NYSE:SAP[1]) seemed bound and determined this year to eclipse its all-time share high of $83.93, set all the way back in 2000. A nearly 40% run in the past year had shares all the way up around $82 … but it ran into resistance Tuesday that kept the mark in tact for now.

SAP — a top provider of business applications for customers like Ford (NYSE:F[2]) and HSBC (NYSE:HBC[3]) — dropped more than 5% Tuesday after reporting Q4 earnings a week ahead of time. Sales increased by 12% to 5.06 billion euros but missed Street forecasts for 5.13 billion euros, while operating profits improved 10% to 1.96 billion euros and just scraped by estimates for 1.95 billion euros.

SAP felt some pressure in North America. The budget fight in Washington appears to have convinced companies to push back on big-ticket IT expenditures. As could be expected, SAP suffered continued challenges in Europe, too.

However, several business rivals are chewing into SAP, too. The usual suspect is Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL[4]) and its core enterprise resource planning business. But Workday (NYSE:WDAY[5]), which has a cloud-based platform, is also gaining ground (WDAY’s revenues roughly doubled in the most recent quarter.)

SAP has been aggressively moving into the cloud market, itself with acquisitions of top-tier companies like SuccessFactors and Ariba. Yet the strategy has some limitations — if anything, it probably means lower revenues because of SAP’s transition to a subscription business model, which often involves lower fees.

The earnings were a sobering break from a breakneck run — one that has at least in part been fueled by excitement over SAP’s in-memory database, HANA. The system uses RAM for storage, which boosts performance, and the technology has proven to be a powerful tool for companies moving into Big Data.

Still, HANA is a small part of SAP’s business, and it looks like its success is already factored into the stock’s valuation. Meanwhile, disruption and costs keep many would-be customers from implementing new databases.

At least in the near-term, SAP shareholders might have to temper their expectations for the stock.

Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPO Playbook[6], a site dedicated to the hottest news and rumors about initial public offerings. He is also the author of “How to Create the Next Facebook[7]” and “High-Profit IPO Strategies: Finding Breakout IPOs for Investors and Traders[8].” Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli[9]. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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