Opening its three-day analyst conference in earnest, Cisco (CSCO) lived up to one promise Tuesday: CEO John Chambers did, in fact, steer clear of any detailed discussion of the current quarter.While Chambers managed to provide another rundown on the company's breakaway strategy -- you know, the one in which Cisco trounces its weaker competitors by flexing its market share and boosting productivity -- he offered no insight into the health of the network gearmaker's customers, nor even any abstractions regarding equipment-ordering patterns. Instead, he raised the bar once again on Cisco's efforts to get into new and faster-growing business. That left observers to muse about the ill winds still buffeting the information technology business and Cisco's premium valuation (after the 80% gain of the last two months, the stock trades at 27 times 2003 earnings estimates). Investors, hoping in vain for some good news to offset an AOL-led tech selloff, sent Cisco shares down 54 cents to close at $14.52.
What Cisco may lack in financial details, it more than made up for in ambition. Chambers, who was targeting eight new growth markets last month, has now raised the bar, aiming for 12 new growth markets by year-end. Growth markets are areas like network security and data storage where Cisco can hope to stimulate sales while its dominant business of selling Internet routers and computer switches matures. Chambers vowed that the company would continue to make acquisition in these growth areas or even form partnerships if need be.