Cisco Long on Hope, Short on Outlook

(Updates Cisco stock information)

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Cisco ( CSCO) is warming up the band for perhaps another penny beat, but Wall Street has its ears attuned to the outlook.

The networking gearmaker will report fiscal first-quarter earnings after the bell Wednesday, and investors will be listening keenly for assurance that the economy is stabilizing and tech spending is improving.

But don't set your hopes too high. The outlook for tech and the broader economy continues to be blurry, and though CEO John Chambers enjoys playing an economist on earnings calls with analysts, he may opt, like his tech peers, to hold off on any long-range predictions.

"While CEO Chambers should sound more optimistic on the recovery, given improving order trends, most of Cisco's large-cap tech peers avoided providing any meaningful commentary on 2010," Bill Choi of Jefferies wrote in a research note Tuesday.

"Similarly, we do not expect 2010 outlook from Cisco," Choi writes.

Cisco is expected to deliver a solid fiscal first-quarter performance. Analysts are expecting an adjusted profit of 31 cents a share, which is down from 42 cents in the year-ago period. Sales are expected to be $8.74 billion, down 15% from the $10.33 billion level last year.

If Chambers sounds optimistic on the earnings call, it could be in part because the company will have made it through the fiscal first quarter, one of Cisco's seasonally weakest. Cisco also has a handful of new products that position it well going into the year end and next year.

Cisco earned an upgrade to buy from Wedbush last month based on the potential demand for new routers.

Similarly, Jefferies Choi says new Nexus data center switches and big core routers may be just the right products for a thawing tech buying cycle.

Cisco has also been on the shopping trail looking to add to its technology offerings. In the past month, Cisco agreed to buy video conferencing specialist Tandberg and mobile data router shop Starent ( STAR).

And last week, Cisco made a deal to buy Internet security player ScanSafe in yet another effort to wade further into the emerging cloud computing segment of the networking sector.

The $6 billion in acquisitions in recent weeks have not tempered Cisco's stock, which is up 40% this year. Investors are hoping a strong outlook can keep that momentum going.

Cisco shares were up 2% to $23.36 in late afternoon trading Wednesday.

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