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Ellison Strikes Bullish Tone at Shareholder Meeting

Seemingly unfazed by the ongoing meltdown in global financial markets, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said Friday his company will likely emerge unscathed, and in fact may "come out of this downturn stronger than we ever have before."

Speaking during Oracle's annual shareholder meeting, Ellison listed a number of rationales for his confidence.

First, the weak economy could actually help Oracle grow, since acquisitions -- of which the company has made many in recent years -- could be cheaper, Ellison said.

He also spun Oracle's fallen stock price as a positive. "We don't like our stock being down, but we're buyers of our stock at these prices. We'll look at that as an opportunity."

Ellison also downplayed the importance of new license growth, which is often cited as a key indicator of a software company's financial health.

A substantial portion of Oracle's revenue -- roughly half at this point -- comes from existing customers renewing their annual license agreements, and the percentage continues to grow, according to Ellison.

"We think the most important part of our business, the most profitable part of our business, is that installed base that renews every year," he said. "It is extremely profitable and the profit engine of this company. .... That's the number everyone should be looking at."

Earlier in the meeting, however, the focus was on the pay packages granted to Ellison and other top Oracle executives. Including incentives and stock options, Ellison made more than US$83 million in fiscal 2008, according to an estimate by the consulting firm Proxy Governance.

Shareholders voted down a proposal submitted by the Marianist Province of the United States, a Catholic religious order and company shareholder, that would have granted shareholders the right to make a non-binding, "advisory" vote on ratifying executives' pay.

Brother Dick Olsen, who spoke on behalf of the Marianist Province, said the measure was "a fair and reasonable reform that is badly needed," adding that it would simply allow shareholders to "weigh in on whether executive compensation packages are reasonable and supportable."

During a question and answer session, Jeffrey Berg, chairman of Oracle's compensation committee, said that in his opinion, the company "has an extremely reasonable deal with Larry."

Ellison is a huge contributor to Oracle's growth, having been the chief architect of its aggressive acquisition strategy, Berg said.

And Ellison is no ordinary CEO, Berg suggested: "I guess as a founder, owner, operator, you can equate him to the owner of a team who can sit up in a skybox and own the franchise."

The pay of tech company executives has come under increased scrutiny from shareholders this year as the economy weakened.

While bullish on Oracle's core business, Ellison made it clear he does not expect much growth to come from cloud computing.

Echoing comments he made at a recent analyst event, Ellison disdained the concept as a fad whipped up by an overzealous tech media.

"I think it's ludicrous that cloud computing is going to take over the world. ... But they get very excited about it, and it's this big echo chamber," he said.

It is too difficult to make money selling cloud computing services, which is why Oracle decided to use Amazon's Simple Storage Service for Oracle's recently announced database backup offering, Ellison said.

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