By Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Oracle Corp's <ORCL.N> beleaguered shares jumped 1.1 percent on Wednesday after an analyst upgraded them ahead of the fiscal first-quarter report card that will shed light on the enterprise software heavyweight's shift toward cloud computing.
SunTrust upgraded Oracle's stock to "buy" from "neutral" ahead of its fiscal first-quarter report due after the bell.
Four decade-old Oracle faces ruthless competition from more youthful companies flogging inexpensive enterprise services delivered via the Internet, including Salesforce.com <CRM.N>, Amazon.com <AMZN.O> and Workday <WDAY.N>.
Analysts have applauded Oracle's attempts to quickly expand its own cloud offerings but some have worried that new focus may hurt the company's traditional, lucrative business of charging customers to run Oracle software in their own data centers.
That fear was underscored in June, when Oracle's fourth-quarter results showed revenue dropped 5 percent even as cloud services grew about 29 percent, but still accounted for only 5 percent of overall revenue.
"We believe that the market confusion surrounding Oracle's emerging cloud business and its impact on its existing businesses, while warranted, is clouding Oracle's long-term potential," wrote SunTrust analyst John Rizzuto in a note to clients explaining his upgrade.
For its first quarter, which ended in August, analyst on average expect EPS of 52 cents and a 1 percent dip in revenue to $8.53 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Oracle has missed earnings estimates by at least 3 percent in half of the past eight quarters. After fourth-quarter results fell short of consensus, chief executive Safra Catz told analysts on a conference call they "missed the boat" on the effect of the strong dollar, which has cut into the revenue of U.S. companies that sell abroad.
Oracle shares jumped as high as $38.52 on Wednesday, but retraced some of those gains to trade at $38.31, up 32 cents or 0.84 percent at 1:40 p.m. EDT. Shares of Oracle have lost 7 percent over the past year while Salesforce.com <CRM.N> has gained 24 and Netsuite <N.N> has risen 8 percent.
Oracle trades at 14 times expected earnings, compared to 82 for Salesforce.com. Of older tech companies also trying to break into cloud computing, Microsoft <MSFT.O> trades at 16 times earnings and International Business Machines <IBM.N> trades at 9 times earnings.
Oracle options were busy on Wednesday with about 29,000 contracts traded by 12:15 p.m. ET, about twice the normal pace, according to Trade Alert.
September puts at strike prices of $38 and $37 were the busiest near-term contracts, suggesting options traders may expect the stock to fall after it reports.
(Additinal reporting by Saqib Ahmed in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)