Just days after it set plans to

slash 17% of its workforce,


(CSCO) - Get Report

Tuesday offered more doleful news, saying it isn't seeing a turnaround in the economy and that growth remains weak.

"We are not seeing a turnaround," CEO John Chambers said at the

Merrill Lynch

Global Communications Investor conference in New York. Six weeks into the networking giant's fiscal third quarter, "We see the same slow growth we saw in January," the executive said. Chambers rattled tech investors Jan. 10 when he conceded that Cisco was worried about the effects of an economic slowdown on its business, a slowdown that the company later held responsible for its first earnings shortfall in three years. Cisco had long contended that it would remain immune to the ills of the industrywide spending pullback and the slowing economy.

A money manager at a New York firm that once was among Cisco's biggest holders but now is out of the stock wasn't surprised by Chambers' modest comments. "I didn't hear a whole lot new, given the info we had Friday," the money manager said. "Not surprised to hear that the slowdown continued in February, but it was a disappointing thing that he didn't see any improvement in March."

Still, this investor remained upbeat, adding, "That might change in a few weeks -- then they might stick their neck out and say things are improving." The manager's firm does own shares of Cisco's optical gear rival


(JNPR) - Get Report


Continuing the line that the company has been offering in recent weeks, Chambers said investors will see a wider range of estimates outside of Cisco's 30%-50% growth target in coming quarters. Without offering specifics, Chambers said there will be times when growth drops below 30% and times when it goes above it. In a sidebar session, the executive allowed that margins appear to be dropping, though he declined to be more specific.

Chambers also said that Cisco is finding business "more challenging in the Asia-Pacific arena."

Chambers added that the company won't be repricing options to compensate workers for the sharp decline in its stock, though he said Cisco could issue additional options should the need arise. Buying back shares is an option Cisco might pursue from time to time, but in the long run that's not a net gainer for the company, Chambers said.