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JPMorgan Tech Conference: Ciena Puts On a Happy Face for Investors

SAN FRANCISCO -- Ciena (CIEN) is not prepared to wipe that smile off its face. The optical network equipment maker stayed away from offering happy numbers at the JPMorgan H&Q conference, but its mood was relentlessly upbeat.

President and COO Gary Smith acknowledged there is a major pullback in carrier spending, of course. He threw up a few slides on the out-of-control capital equipment spending habits that had equipment sellers giddy over the past several years. The upward trajectory of spending was underlined by a slow, flat line of revenues -- a widening gap that had to be reconciled now that the capital markets are scowling at grabbing hands. "It has to come down if they're going to be profitable, if they're going to get well again," Smith says.

But Ciena's growing revenue line? No change there. Smith is perky as can be. Ciena hasn't been hit by the sadness drowning the spirits of Cisco (CSCO) and Nortel (NT). The Ciena attitude has been unflaggingly positive, because those carriers can't buy everything, and the company believes they'll buy Ciena. If you can only spend so much, spend on future, next-generation systems, right?

Investors poked and prodded the company, but Smith wouldn't flinch. Is this a buyer's market now that Ciena's competitors need all the business they can get? Not if you've got better products that can't be replaced by reduced-price products of your competitors. "We've seen competitive pricing our there for the past two to three years," he says, adding that at times competitors were willing to almost give product away to get rid of Ciena.

Still smiling.

What about Cisco's inventory write-off? Surely that'll pressure Ciena as Cisco dumps products into the market. Nope, Smith says Cisco's lines that compete with Ciena are doing just fine, so they don't need to cut prices. How about the spread of economic gloom? Ciena draws 30% to 40% of its revenue from international business, but is just as pleased with those businesses -- no slowdown there either, or so it seems. And on the brighter side, Ciena says it's definitely seeing relief in the components it buys. Smith says he's got more flexibility in lead times and that pricing is more flexible.

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