By Harro Ten Wolde
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Quarterly earnings from SAP AG fell short of expectations on Tuesday, showing the German business software maker failed to keep up with arch-rival Oracle Corp and sending its shares sharply lower.
SAP's results, released more than a week before they had been scheduled, showed group revenue rose 12 percent to 5.06 billion euros ($6.8 billion), below an average analyst forecast of 5.17 billion, according to Reuters data.
Operating profit rose more slowly than revenue, gaining 10 percent to 1.96 billion euros, resulting in SAP's operating margin narrowing by 0.8 percentage points to 38.8 percent in the three months through December.
The figures contrasted with those of Oracle, the world's No. 3 software maker and SAP's biggest competitor, which last month forecast strong sales for 2013 after posting a 17 percent jump in quarterly software revenue.
SAP shares were down 3.8 percent and were the biggest decliners in a 2 percent weaker sector index by 1500 GMT. The stock fell as low as 57.77 euros, its lowest in two months.
"Especially after their main competitor Oracle managed to beat estimates last month, many had hoped that SAP would follow suit," said Markus Huber, head of German trading at ETX Capital.
"Even by missing estimates by a very small margin, and despite having had an overall excellent 2012, investors are venting their disappointment by dumping the stock heavily," Huber added.
SAP said its operating profit was affected by investments in web-based software products, also known as "cloud" businesses.
The Walldorf, southern Germany-based company, along with peers such as IBM and Oracle, are betting on faster-growing, web-based software products, which are less vulnerable to the economic downturn as there are no upfront costs for program licenses, dedicated hardware or installation.
SAP last year splashed out $7.7 billion to buy internet-based computing companies Ariba and SuccessFactors.
The web-based services garnered just 342 million euros in 2012 revenues, a fraction of the total 16.3 billion.
With a market capitalization of $100 billion, SAP is the second-most valuable company in the German blue chip index behind Volkswagen, which is worth $105 billion, according to Reuters data.
SAP is due to publish full financial results and a full-year outlook on January 23. Some analysts fear the 2013 outlook could also disappoint.
"Guidance could be slightly below current consensus and expectations may be revised lower," Barclays analyst Gerardus Vos said in a note.
SAP's full-year operating profit at constant currencies reached 5.02 billion euros, missing its own guidance for at least 5.05 billion euros.
($1 = 0.7482 euros)
(Additional reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by David Holmes)