Though it hasn't failed to beat earnings estimates in 14 quarters, the networking equipment maker, which reports Monday after the close, is going to be a real swing force in next week's market.
The other swing force is, obviously, the outcome of Tuesday's presidential and congressional elections -- though who the winning candidate will be may be clouded by the latest on George Dubya.
That Dubya is for DWI, as coined by Friday's
New York Post
. Reports that Texas Gov. George W. Bush was cited for drunk driving when he was young (30!) and carefree broke Thursday night and splattered the front pages of Friday's newspapers, jeopardizing the Republicans' narrow lead only days before the final showdown.
With all this fun, most market pros feel that Thursday's
Producer Price Index
report won't be a big deal.
"The PPI is unlikely to drive the markets. Even though they'll probably be good numbers, these ones are pretty well known and pretty much discounted. Last month, we had strong numbers because oil prices rose. This month, we'll offset those numbers," says Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at
With earnings season on its last legs and few bellwethers left to report, investors already have a fairly good sense of how the quarter went: It wasn't great, but it wasn't so bad either. But the outlook for the future is a bit more mixed.
The market is particularly worried about recent highflying techs like optical and networking stocks. Investors continued to believe these sectors were graced by unlimited growth opportunities until just a few weeks ago. Then came fiber-optics stock
, which warned of slowing optical sales in coming quarters and popped that optical and networking bubble.
Only a few days later,
confused the issue by making bullish comments about its own outlook for coming quarters.
So investors are hoping for some clarification from Cisco.
"Cisco is a big number because it is exposed to so many different areas. It'll beat the quarter by a penny as it always does. But, what people care about is the guidance and there's no guessing that right now. Strong guidance will certainly make a lot of people happy," says Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at
Guidance is a particularly sticky issue this quarter as investors try to gauge how much the economy is slowing, while trying to sort out tech stock valuations.
"Until the third quarter, nobody believed tech stocks had good years and bad years. They thought it would grow at 25% for 10 years without any interruption. The lesson from the third quarter is that tech growth is not as consistent as growth in the utilities, drugs and consumer noncyclicals," says Johnson.
If Cisco gives great guidance, then tech stocks may be strong enough to weather any election-related tremors.
But, either way, the biggest moves are likely to be in defensive sectors -- those that are seen as benefiting from a Bush administration.
In fact, some market observers say Friday's weakness in defensive stocks like drugs, utilities, managed care, tobacco and energy was a reaction to the embarrassing news about Bush's driving problems. And a sign of the power the elections should have over the stock market.
"This market is marching to the election's drummer today," says Johnson. "And that lets you know that the election is on the mind of the investors," he added.
Dow Jones Utility Average
fell 1.7%, the
American Stock Exchange Pharmaceutical Index
fell 0.6%, the
American Stock Exchange Natural Gas Index
fell 1.9% and the
American Stock Exchange Oil and Gas Index
Then again, many of the Bush-friendly stocks have already seen a nice run-up in the past eight weeks, so it's unclear whether a Bush win would take them any higher or whether the markets have been playing the ever popular "buy the rumor, sell the news" game, Johnson added.
A win by Vice President Al Gore, on the other hand, is widely seen as bolstering the bond market because of his greater focus on deficit reduction. However, a clean sweep by either party might not be seen as a swell thing, either.
"A capture of the House by more traditional Democrats or a Democratic control of Congress would likely worry bond investors because of a loss of checks and balances between the White House and Congress," said a Friday report from
Banc of America Capital Management
Meanwhile, in a volatile and indecisive market, any effect from the election may not last long.
"We are waiting to see how the elections pan out," says Steven Goldman, market strategist at
, "but it could have a short-term outcome."
In the coming week, we'll get a chance to see.