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gave growth-hungry investors something to chew on Tuesday, but Fat City remains but a memory.

Shares in the big communications gear shop jumped 8% Tuesday on remarks by CEO John Chambers. The always-bullish executive told a crowd at a UBS Warburg investment conference in New York that backlog levels -- reflecting orders received but not shipped or recorded as revenue -- were higher than the $1.4 billion level the company had reported on Sept. 9.

The market took the comment as indicating that Cisco's order pace has finally picked up, suggesting that perhaps the company's forecasts could be conservative. But some observers noted that Cisco made its latest

disappointing projections just last week, which makes the rationale behind Tuesday's jump look a bit thinner. Cisco rose $1, to $13.16.

Indeed, some investors noted that Chambers' comments Tuesday actually echoed the company's remarks last Wednesday. After the call, the company acknowledged to analysts that October's sales were significantly better than September's and that subsequently there were more unshipped orders. With that in mind, Tuesday's rally appeared less compelling.

Still, there's room for some optimism in the latest remarks, seeing as only two months ago Cisco was making commments that scared even its longtime fans. In September, investors were

highly discouraged by Cisco annual report, which showed a 30% drop in backlog from the previous year's levels.

Investors typically use backlog as a predictor of future sales, though Cisco insists that there isn't always a perfect correlation between the two. But even if Cisco cautions that too much can be read into the "snapshot" of fluctuating backlog levels, it is clear that backlog has told a pretty accurate story of the decline of the telecom industry in recent years.

Cisco's backlog has been falling steadily over the past two years, from $3.4 billion in 2000 to $2 billion in 2001 and lately to $1.4 billion. The erosion has come largely at the hands of a broad-based downturn in information technology spending. As investors and analysts point out, backlog declines also suggest that order cycles have shortened as gear buyers shy away from large-scale, long-term building efforts.

Chambers also may have relieved some of the anxiety about the rising challenge of

new low-balling competitors such as

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and China's



In keeping with a Cisco tradition of not referring to a competitor by name, Chambers shrugged off the threat as one of many the company has overcome in the past few years.

We saw "the competition coming from below six years ago," Chambers told the gathering. He said the company would likely have to compete a bit on price and engineering, but like other challengers before them, it was not a great concern.

Who says Cisco has lost its swagger?

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