For the first time in more than a year, Ciena's (CIEN) headed in the right direction. The question now is whether it's moving fast enough.Thursday morning, the optical networking shop became the first major communications gearmaker to not only post sequential revenue growth but to predict more of the same for the current quarter. Ciena shares jumped 18% Thursday afternoon, spurred by the Linthicum, Md., company's surprising top-line strength. But as always, plenty of caveats were available to balance the telecom market's latest hopeful murmurings. For one thing, Ciena's turnaround milestone comes only after a six-quarter-long sequential sales slide. Tellingly, that plunge ended with latest-quarter sales more than 80% below their mid-2001 peak. For another, red ink is flowing robustly at Ciena, and the company, though cash rich, continues to burn cash at a rapid rate. And even if the latest quarter's numbers suggest the worst is over for tech-savvy Ciena, company executives and analysts note that the telecom equipment market remains a swamp. "The industry isn't stabilizing," Ciena CEO Gary Smith told analysts on a morning conference call. "We aren't a barometer for the industry."
"Clearly, we are very early in the bottoming process, but it is good to see improvements on their top line," says Justin McNichol, a money manager with Osborne Partners Capital Management who is long Ciena. "Unfortunately, they're going to need many 10%-plus growth quarters in a row to reach their break-even."