After several weeks of stock price malaise and a second half of the year in which shares have underperformed the market by more than 15 percentage points, the time has come for Cisco (CSCO) to disclose fiscal first quarter results.
The stock is currently priced about as conservatively as it has been in the past twelve months at least, but maybe not for too long. A combination of improved global macroeconomic conditions, a market that has turned cautiously optimistic and perhaps a consensus-beating earnings report may be what Cisco needs to see its shares break the inertia and rise once again.
What To Expect This Week
The San Jose-based company is expected to deliver $13.1 billion in revenues in the first quarter of fiscal 2020, largely flat over last year's levels and in line with the company's guidance. Adjusted EPS of $0.81, if achieved, would represent a modest year-over-year increase that also lines up with the management team's expectations.
It would be too much optimism to expect China, one of Cisco's smallest but most challenged markets, to provide any upside to the company's top line. The shaky commercial relations between the United States and China have been taking a toll on Cisco, as Chinese clients keep on pushing the U.S.-based network provider out of the market. Softness in emerging countries, particularly in Asia Pacific, could also be a drag on the company's financial performance, as it was in fiscal fourth quarter.
Another item worth keeping an eye on is demand from global carriers. This vertical remains budget-constrained, as telecom service providers attempt to balance competing priorities that include infrastructure investments, cash returns to shareholders and balance sheet management. With business confidence approaching a ten-year low, there is risk that capital-intensive companies may start to tap the brakes on spending.
On the positive side, the strong performance of the Catalyst 9000 and Nexus 9000 product lines in the data center should continue to support infrastructure platform sales, still by far the "bread and butter" of Cisco's business. Security solutions will very likely continue to be one of the company's key growth drivers, benefiting from an increasingly complex and distributed network environment that remains heavily exposed to cyber threats.
Lastly, expect op margins to expand once again, this time by as much as a full percentage point. Driving the improvement will be the progressive revenue mix shift towards software and subscription services, while a fairly benign pricing environment and lower component costs should also help to provide a lift to profitability.
Quality Meets De-Risked Price
Although risks to owning Cisco ahead of the print exist, particularly in what pertains to service provider spending and demand in certain developing markets, the company continues to showcase strong business fundamentals. Better yet, the stock now looks affordable.
For instance, a current-year P/E of 14.7x is hovering around a two-year low, while the dividend yield seems to have found a ceiling at just below 3%. It looks like investors are willing to bid up shares at roughly the current valuation levels, which is a bullish case for the stock.
Given the company's robust cash generation abilities, enticing dividend payments and liquid balance sheet, Cisco seems inexpensive enough to justify a buy at current levels.
The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned in this article.