Network Stocks: 2 Buys, 2 Sells

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With the expected recovery in enterprise IT spending, network stocks stand to benefit a great deal. However, not all are the same. Some are better positioned to produce market beating performances, while others will likely lag behind. Here are few names to consider.

Cisco ( CSCO)

With seven consecutive earnings beats, network giant Cisco continues to move in the right direction. It still seems the company has an uphill battle when it comes to convincing a market that rarely forgives and certainly never forgets.

There aren't many companies outside of Apple ( AAPL) that have had the string of recent performance as Cisco. In fact, over the past seven quarters Cisco has demonstrated consistent revenue growth averaging over 6% while averaging 5% profit growth during that span.

The company started its fiscal 2013 just as it ended 2012, with another earnings beat. The network giant reported net income of $2.6 billion, or 48 cents per share, on revenue of $11.9 billion. Not only was this enough to beat analysts' estimates of 46 cents per share, but the results also represented 11% profit growth.

Likewise, revenue grew by 6%, exceeding Street expectations of $11.77 billion. Cisco continues to see excellent improvement in its services business with revenue growing year-over-year by 12%. Some of the company's largest customers have contributed to the growing demand as evident by the 9% increase in orders. The stock is a steal at current levels.

Juniper ( JNPR)

Cisco's resurgence means it is stealing market share from rivals such as Juniper. Juniper has always had a solid product portfolio; unfortunately, it has lacked in execution. Unlike Cisco's recent M&A acquisitions, Juniper has not been able to find new ways to grow and its R&D attempts have been uninspiring. As a result, the company has not been able to create any sort of momentum.

Remarkably, the stock has yet to show these concerns. This means that at a P/E of 51 with marginal growth, shares are just too expensive. If Juniper can make a play for new entrants such as Palo Alto Networks ( PANW) or Aruba Networks ( ARUN), then it might have a chance. But as it stands, both are better long-term options than Juniper.

I would be a seller here. The company is heading in the opposite direction and investors would be wise to stay away, at least until management can demonstrate that the company has a solid plan for the future. On the other hand, should the stock drop by another 20%, I'm willing to reconsider.

F5 ( FFIV)

F5's recent earnings miss made investors uncomfortable. Although 6% profit growth in a tough macro climate should be considered decent, it fell short of analysts' estimates of $1.18 per share on revenue of $366.1 million. Essentially, although F5 grew revenue and EPS by 15% and 6%, respectively, the company missed on both its top and bottom lines.

The good news is that it has some catalysts on the horizon, including a new product cycle that starts this year. F5 is still a solid company with an excellent management team. The company continues to log quarterly performances that speak to its sound business. But this continues to be a story about valuation.

With guidance having come down and revenue growing at a slower rate, the prudent play here would be to wait a couple of more quarters to see how IT spending rebounds. The risk in the stock is still too great.

Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ)

Beleaguered tech giant Hewlett-Packard is just too beaten up to think that things can get worse. Its challenge is to figure out ways to restore the confidence of Wall Street. Though not an easy task at this point, it's not impossible. To that end it has been working hard to prove that itdoes not need to be Apple in order to survive. But unfortunately, it has not worked.

At this point I'm not so sure if CEO, Meg Whitman is still the right person for the job. Though HP was a mess when she took over, it is tough to dismiss that the company's stock has lost 45% since she took over just a little over a year ago. While a lot of that can be attributed to the surge of mobile devices that has affected its PC business, HP has had plenty of opportunities to stop the bleeding.

At current levels, the stock is not going to zero. Money can be made on HP if the stock reaches only the midpoint of its 52-week high. As down as the company might be, expectations are minimal. The company pays a decent yield at 3.50%. Patient investors might be rewarded, with a little bit of luck.

At the time of publication the author had a position in AAPL.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Richard Saintvilus is a private investor with an information technology and engineering background and has been investing and trading for over 15 years. He employs conservative strategies in assessing equities and appraising value while minimizing downside risk. His decisions are based in part on management, growth prospects, return on equity and price-to-earnings as well as macroeconomic factors. He is an investor who seeks opportunities whether on the long or short side and believes in changing positions as information changes.

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