Lock In Juniper Networks (JNPR) Profits After It Pays Its Dividend - TheStreet

Shares of networking specialist Juniper Networks (JNPR) - Get Report will begin trading ex-dividend Friday, Nov. 27 -- the day after Thanksgiving. To qualify for a dividend check, investors must own Juniper stock on or before its ex-dividend date -- the last day the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company will finalize its roster of shareholders to whom it will send dividend checks.

Investors of record as of Tuesday, Dec. 1 will receive Juniper's 10-cent quarterly payout on Dec. 15. With Juniper stock trading at around $30.50, the dividend yields just 1.31% annually. That's 70 basis points below what you can get by rolling the dice on the average stock in the S&P 500 (SPX) index, which pays a 2% yield.

Juniper's dividend is not breathtaking. But Juniper stock is up about 36% in 2015 and has skyrocketed 19% just in the past three months. If you've held the shares over the past 12 months, you're up 38% on your investment.

Juniper shares have been on a tear -- and therein lies the risk. Investors must ask: how much more room is there for the stock to grow? Based on its average analyst 12-month price target of $32 and its consensus hold rating, not much.

It's possible analysts who follow the company closely believe the stock has already delivered the growth expectations implied by its price-to-earnings ratio of 34, which is 13 points higher than the average stock in the S&P 500 index.

Juniper has beaten its earnings growth estimates in four straight quarters, but the company has also had the benefit of favorable year-over-year comparisons. Now, it's about "what's next?" To what extent can its outperformance continue?

Based on fiscal 2015 and 2016 consensus earnings estimates of $1.99 and $2.19 a share, investors are still paying 20 times and 18 times those estimates, respectively. That's against a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 17 for the average stock in the S&P 500 index.

Juniper -- owing to its strong 2015 revenue and earnings performance -- will have a much harder time beating its numbers next year. That's a tall order for an expensive stock that has already crushed the market and pays a below-average yield.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.