Cisco ( CSCO) investors are hearing distant shouts of "timber!" after mighty Juniper ( JNPR) got felled Tuesday. Telco spending cuts have chipped away Juniper's first-quarter sales target for the second time, leading the firm to project revenue of between $760 million and $765 million, compared to the prior target of $800 million to $830 million. The news comes less than three months after Juniper gave what one analyst called "atrocious" guidance for the first quarter, with the revised sales forecast aimed 13% below the projected revenue tally. Juniper's stock rose 8% Wednesday despite the warning, as investors cheered the company's ability to stay within its gross margin target range of 65% to 67%. But a big chunk of the cost savings came from lower bonus accruals, meaning sales staff failed to hit or beat their quotas last quarter. Many of Juniper's expense-tightening efforts were one-time moves and not necessarily a sign of sustainable cost controls, wrote JPMorgan analyst Ehud Gelblum in a research report Wednesday. So what's eating Juniper? The same gnawing forces that are apt to take a smaller bite out of Cisco's performance: Phone and cable companies are conserving cash and shelving network spending plans. The latest dreary news from Juniper revives concerns around how much lower tech spending can go as the economy continues to sputter. Juniper's forecast is one of the first released by a networking gearmaker this year and is likely to color investment opinion about the rest of the sector. Networking outfits like Cisco, Ciena ( CIEN), Ericsson ( ERIC) and Alcatel-Lucent ( ALU) that sell gear to telcos are in for a rough year.
Verizon ( VZ), which spent $17.2 billion on network maintenance and upgrades last year, is cutting that budget this year. And AT&T ( T) said in January that it would lower its spending $2 billion to $3 billion, or 10% to 15% this year from 2008 levels. Juniper books about 70% of its sales from cable companies and telcos, while Cisco's revenue is closer to 20% dependent on these service providers. Cisco also has a more deft hand on the cost control levers. However, a big worry among investors is whether Cisco will lurch into a costly merger deal instead of using its $29 billion in cash to buyback stock. "My biggest negative on Cisco," says one investor who sold his position Tuesday, "revolves around capital allocation, not slowing sales."