Is Cisco Your Best Valentine?


In a recent Bloomberg interview, CEO John Chambers talked about where he sees Cisco Systems going after its very strong quarter of earnings. The company beat expectations for earnings per share on increasing revenue, and issued solid guidance for the coming quarter and the rest of the year. The question you must now ask is whether the news is a sufficient catalyst to buy the stock. In Thursday's session, the stock has not reacted much, trading down about 2%, but in line with the market. Cisco continues to be a solid investment with substantial growth potential, even if the stock is largely trading more like a value play lately.

By the numbers
Cisco released earnings on Wednesday after the close, reporting EPS of $0.47 against average analyst expectations of $0.43. The company reported record revenue of $12.1 billion, which represents sequential growth of 1.7% and a year-over-year swell of 5.2%. Where product growth showed an increase of only 3.3%, the growth in the company's services business jumped by 12.5% on a year-over-year basis to $2.7 billion.

In terms of guidance, the company said it expects EPS of $0.48 to $0.50 moving forward, and an increase in revenue of 4% to 6%. These projections are based on non-GAAP gross margins of 61% to 62% and operating margins in the range of 26.5% to 27.5%. While the numbers are not burning hot, they are in line with what analysts were expecting and put the company on firm footing moving into the next quarter.

Chamber's take
The longtime CEO offered an particularly interesting take on the state of the economy in which to judge the earnings of his company. Chambers explained that technology and financial companies tend to be good leading indicators for the health of the economy, often showing a roughly three-quarter lead on the state of GDP in the U.S.

Cisco has shown steady growth over the past three quarters, particularly within the U.S. and Chambers believes that can be interpreted as a sign that things are generally improving. He does not believe financials will lead this time, meaning that the health of tech can provide a significant clue to what is coming for us all. This is of particular interest given that Chambers said he believes the most significant portion of Cisco's growth will come outside of the U.S.

He further commented that as long as the U.S. tax code remains the only one in the developed world that makes it so costly for companies to bring money home, the company would manage its cash accordingly. In a rare foray into politics, Chambers alluded to the fact that President Obama's message from the State of the Union that American opportunity was critical, saying it would be accomplished more easily if companies could more easily bring their wealth back home. Ultimately he said that Cisco would manage its business to, among other factors, maximize its tax benefit.

Within the context of Cisco's decisions on how to deploy resources, Chambers explained that the company was beginning to see signs of strength in Europe. While the region as a whole was weak, he pointed out that if certain nations were broken out, Germany in particular, numbers are beginning to firm and show promise. In the company's core businesses, Chambers is very satisfied with the trajectory that the statistics suggest.

Core growth
Two of Cisco's core segments from which it derives up to half of its business are switches and routers. While switch revenue climbed by 3%, revenue from router sales dropped by 6%. These figures might represent a source of concern for shareholders, but Chambers points out that sales numbers for the company tend to be "lumpy." In an example, he explained that moving a single order by a day -- from one quarter to the next -- could result in a dramatic difference in reported results. On a rolling full-year basis, router sales are more stable and a far better measure of the company's position.

With a 2.7% dividend yield and growth in the mid-single digits, Cisco continues to look more and more like a value stock in growth's clothing. What appeals to me about the stock beyond this profile is in the pent-up potential. Cisco wasn't even in the router business a decade ago, so its ability to shift gears is proven. The significant upside growth potential makes the company more than just a value stock and should earn it a place in your portfolio.

Get the low down on the routing juggernaut in The Motley Fool's premium report on Cisco. Our report also has you covered with a full year of free analyst updates to keep you informed as its story changes, so click here now to read more.

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Fool contributor Doug Ehrman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Cisco Systems. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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