updated 12/15/2003 4:46:45 PM ET 2003-12-15T21:46:45

Oracle Corp. said Monday that its second quarter profit rose 15 percent amid rising demand for its business software, providing the latest hopeful glint in high-tech's brightening outlook.

The Redwood Shores-based company earned $617 million, or 12 cents per share, in the quarter ended in Nov. 30, compared with net income of $535 million, or 10 cents per share, at the same time last year.

Revenue totaled $2.5 billion, up 8 percent from $2.3 billion a year earlier.

"We are extremely pleased with the strong performance we saw this quarter," said Jeff Henley, Oracle's chief financial officer. "Solid execution in the field, a strengthening competitive position and an improving economy contributed to results that were above expectations."

The earnings were a penny better than the estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

Oracle released its results after the stock market closed Monday. The company's shares fell 13 cents to $12.70 on the Nasdaq Stock Market, then rose 36 cents in extended trading.

With its upbeat quarterly report, Oracle joins other prominent high-tech bellwethers, including chip maker Intel Corp. and network equipment maker Cisco Systems Inc., that have provided financial evidence of an industry upturn.

Oracle's performance bodes well for the majority of software makers that close their quarters at the end of this month, said industry analyst Cameron Steele of RBC Capital Markets. Investors often look to Oracle as a proxy for the rest of the software industry because the company's fiscal quarters end earlier than most of its rivals.

It marked the fourth consecutive quarter in which Oracle's earnings improved upon from the results from the comparable year-ago period.

Oracle's earnings gains in previous quarters stemmed largely from rigid cost controls and consulting fees that helped the company offset lackluster demand for its software.

Solid sales growth propelled Oracle in its latest quarter as its corporate customers stepped up their technology spending.

Oracle's new software licenses totaled $855 million in the quarter, a 12 percent increase from $765 million at the same time last year.

The company made its biggest strides in business software applications, a segment that has become a focal point in Oracle's long-term growth plans. The company said its sales of application licenses climbed 27 percent from the same time last year.

Through the first half of its fiscal year, Oracle earned $1.1 billion, or 20 cents per share, on revenue $4.6 billion. At the same juncture last year, Oracle had earned $878 million, or 16 cents per share, on revenue of $4.3 billion.

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