Hoping to charm skeptical investors prior to a crucial earnings report this week,
Monday flashed the magical phrase "optical switching." But the company's announcement has far less substance than meets the eye.
agreed to buy its WaveStar LambdaRouter optical switch, Lucent's first micro-mirror device used to redirect fiber-optic traffic. While Lucent's release expounds on the gear's huge capacity gains, it fails to mention that Global Crossing is only test driving the switch, and that it won't be commercially available for several months.
Lucent says the announcement was important because it shows the company is moving ahead in the key optical-equipment market. And its stock opened higher after the optical-switching announcement, then moved in line with the market much of the day before closing at 54 1/8, up 2 1/8.
While it may seem that Lucent was playing to individual investors enamored by the word optical, seasoned Lucent watchers say talking up products still in development is typical behavior for the nation's largest and perhaps most beleaguered equipment maker.
"This is standard Lucent, always at the 'forefront,' " says
CIBC World Markets
equipment analyst James Jungjohann. "But the key is really in the delivery." (Jungjohann's firm hasn't performed underwriting for Lucent. He rates the stock a hold.)
And it was delivery, or actually the lack of it, that hammered Lucent last quarter. Its January earnings
warning knocked a third off the stock and shattered the Street's confidence that it could execute in a fiercely competitive market.
Lucent won back some of its detractors with its March 1
plan to unload slow-growth businesses, but its stock is still down 28% for the year and more than 36% from its 52-week high.
Lucent is the first of the big network gear makers to report earnings and will likely set the tone for the rest of the pack. Demand for network equipment is at an all-time
high, and many of the networking outfits are expected to show strong fundamental growth.
Analysts expect Lucent to report Wednesday morning that it had $9.7 billion in sales and a 22 cents per share profit for its fiscal second quarter ending March 31, a 31% increase over the same period last year.
, which is scheduled to report April 25, is expected to post a 33% increase in profits from the same quarter a year ago. And
, whose quarter ends this month, is expected to report a 38% profit increase over the year-ago quarter when it releases earnings May 9.
But given last quarter's fiasco, Lucent has to make the most of it this time around. The Street needs signs that the company has been able to capture some of the market it lost when it fell behind on the demand for high-capacity switches.
So it's little coincidence that Lucent is tooting the optical horn so close to its earnings release, says
Truc Do, who has a buy on Lucent. Wit SoundView has no banking ties to Lucent.
"This is an announcement of a new product, and I don't think they have a product yet," says Do. "I'm skeptical of any announcement right before they report the quarter; To me that's not a good sign."
And what a difference a quarter makes. Before last quarter, Lucent's earnings track record allowed it to enjoy the benefit of the doubt among those in the investment community. But now the post-warning Lucent will have to do more than simply promote new products.