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Ben Reynolds
Ben Reynolds
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Cisco Systems: A Better Bargain Than Ever?

Company is a buy after its recent 8% price decline

May 19, 2017 | About:

(Published by Nicholas McCullum on May 19)

Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO) recently reported financial results for the third quarter of fiscal 2017.

The company’s bottom-line performance was robust. GAAP earnings per share increased to 50 cents, a 9% increase from the 46 cents recorded in the same period a year ago.

Adjusted financial results were almost as positive, with this quarter’s adjusted EPS of 60 cents representing a 5% increase from the 57 cents figure in the same period a year ago.

Despite this solid performance, Cisco’s stock was hammered following the announcement. The stock declined by nearly 8% the day following the earnings release.

Looking more closely, Cisco’s stock price decline was driven by poor revenue growth and lackluster revenue guidance.

It appears the markets are unfairly punishing this technology stock, however. Cisco is a mature business and has endured since its founding in 1984; 8% daily moves for a company of this size are almost unheard of.

Further, Cisco is very profitable and quite shareholder-friendly. The company initiated its dividend in 2011 – preventing it from becoming a Dividend Achiever or a Dividend Aristocrat any time soon – but it has grown its payout immensely in that time.

So by many measures, Cisco is a high-quality business. As Warren Buffett (TradesPortfolio) has said, “The best thing that happens to us is when a great company gets into temporary trouble…We want to buy them when they’re on the operating table.”

Fortunately for investors, Cisco is far from being "on the operating table."

Business overview & current events

Cisco is a diversified technology giant. The company was founded in 1984 and has grown to a market cap of $154 billion and quarterly revenues of $12 billion.

The company operates in nine unique segments, which can be seen in the following diagram.

CSCO Cisco Third Quarter Revenue Highlights

Source: Cisco Third Quarter Earnings Presentation, slide 6

Cisco is a highly globalized company. Approximately 40% of the company’s revenues are generated outside the United States.

This benefits Cisco because of the potential to penetrate new markets and increase its operational diversification.

When the U.S. dollar is strong against a basket of other global currencies (like it has been recently), however, Cisco’s international revenues become less valuable when swapped back U.S. dollars for reporting purposes. This can present a meaningful headwind to Cisco, depending on prevailing exchange rates.

There are several factors behind Cisco’s recent stock price decline.

As mentioned in the introduction, the main factor behind this price movement after Cisco’s earnings release was the announcements surrounding revenue.

Cisco’s revenues declined 1% from the same period a year ago. A 1% decline in quarterly revenue is relatively inconsequential, however, considering the company’s GAAP and adjusted EPS increased by 9% and 5%, respectively.

What really hurt Cisco’s stock price is its revenue guidance for the next quarter.

Cisco’s management team is expecting next quarter’s revenues to decline by 4% to 6% from the same period a year ago.

This is very unusual for Cisco – the company has seen healthy revenue growth for most of its history as a publicly traded company.

Cisco’s long-term annual revenue trend can be seen below.

Annual Revenue

So what are investors to make of Cisco’s reduced quarterly revenue guidance?

Well, it is very important to avoid looking at this revenue guidance in isolation. While revenue is important, there are other financial metrics (net income and free cash flow, for example) that provide other important information about a company’s financial health.

For example, the past decade has seen Cisco meaningfully increase its profitability (as measured by adjusted EPS).

Cisco Systems Adjusted Earnings-Per-Share

Source: YCharts

The past quarter was no different. As mentioned, Cisco saw GAAP and adjusted EPS increase meaningfully from the same period a year ago.

Other profitability metrics experienced the same upward trend. Operating cash flow grew 10% to $3.4 billion, and the adjusted operating margin increased by 2.3% to 32.3%.

Looking ahead, next quarter’s poor revenue expectations are not expected to affect the company’s bottom line.

Cisco’s management is forecasting adjusted EPS of 60 cents to 62 cents in the fourth quarter. For context, this quarter’s number was 60 cents.

Altogether, the Cisco business appears to be performing well. The headline decrease in company-wide revenues is being offset by increasing margins and share repurchases – thus, EPS are continuing to grow.

Growth prospects

Cisco system’s future financial performance will be driven by a healthy combination of organic growth and inorganic acquisitions.

Organically, Cisco continues to generate cost savings, which improves its EPS even though company-wide revenues are in a slight decline.

Despite company-wide revenue pressures, there are particular areas of Cisco’s business that show a great deal of promise.

One example is its budding cybersecurity business.

As we have seen recently with the WannaCry ransomware cyber attacks, the cybersecurity industry is a very important part of today’s economy. This industry will only grow moving forward.

Cisco is a beneficary of this trend. The company’s cybersecurity segment grew rapidly in the most recent quarter, adding 6,000 customers and bringing its total customer base to 73,000. Cisco continues to invest heavily in cybersecurity, and this segment will certainly be a tailwind to the company’s future returns.

From the acquisition side, Cisco has shown the ability to be a very bold player in the merger and acquisition markets.

The most recent quarter saw Cisco close on the acquisition of AppDynamics. This transaction was valued at approximately $3.7 billion and will bolster Cisco’s presence in the ever-important internet of things industry.

Cisco also recently announced the acquisition of MindMeld, an artificial intelligence startup based in San Fransisco. MindMeld’s specialty is the creation of intelligent and human-like conversational interfaces for a wide range of applications.

Cisco’s management believes MindMeld’s technology can be integrated in a number of ways across the broader business. CEO Charles Robbins touted the benefits of this transaction on Cisco’s third-quarter earnings call, saying:

“Our intended acquisition of MindMeld will help us simplify and enhance the collaboration experience even further through the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning. As chat and voice quickly become the interfaces of choice, MindMeld’s AI technology will enable Cisco to deliver unique experiences throughout its portfolio. This acquisition will power new conversational interfaces for Cisco’s collaboration products, revolutionizing how users will interact with our technology while increasing ease of use and enabling new capabilities. For example, users will be able to interact with Cisco Spark via Natural Language Commands, providing an experience that is highly customized to the user and their work.”

Robbins added the company looks to continue acquiring smaller, up-and-coming technology service companies.

“We were also pleased to announce our intent to acquire some new additions to our software and analytics portfolio. Software-defined WAN is a critical market transition and addresses the evolving customer demands and branch routing as a foundational block of executing in cloud networking.”

Growth in Cisco’s existing businesses, as well as the addition of complimentary acquisitions, will drive the company’s growth for the foreseeable future.

The company also has a potential catalyst at the government level. Cisco would seriously benefit from repatriation tax reform as proposed by the new administration.

Right now, multinational corporations like Cisco that generate overseas income must pay the U.S. corporate tax rate of 35% to transfer – or repatriate – this capital to domestic accounts. Companies receive a tax credit for any corporate income tax that was already paid to international tax authorities.

Cisco would benefit from such a policy change because it has a substantial hoard of overseas cash.

At the end of the third quarter, Cisco reported cash, cash equivalents and investments of $68 billion. Amazingly, only $2.9 billion of this capital is held in domestic accounts.

Some quick math tells us Cisco currently holds $65.1 billion of capital in overseas accounts. To repatriate this capital, the company would have to pay at most $22.8 billion in taxes (35% of $65.1 billion).

Under the 10% tax repatriation holiday proposed in President Trump’s economic plan, this $22.8 billion tax liability would be reduced to $6.5 billion (10% of $65.1 billion), resulting in savings of $16.3 billion for Cisco.

More importantly, it would trigger Cisco to actually repatriate its overseas cash. The company could spend this new capital on shareholder-friendly activities such as additional share repurchases, a special one-time dividend or an increase to the existing quarterly dividend payment.

Alternatively, Cisco could use its overseas capital to fund acquisitions or increase internal investment.

Whatever the proceeds are used for, Cisco will benefit immensely from repatriation tax reform and investors should watch closely for any sign of progress on this front from the current administration.

Competitive advantage & recession performance

Cisco has a very strong scale-based competitive advantage over its smaller competitors.

As a large globalized technology provider, Cisco’s fixed costs are spread over a wider revenue base, which improves the company’s profitability metrics.

This can be seen by looking at Cisco’s financial statements: the company reported GAAP and non-GAAP gross margins of 63.0% and 64.4% in the most recent quarter. Further, Cisco reported GAAP and non-GAAP operating margins of 26.5% and 32.3% in the same period.

Cisco is quite recession-resistant. During the 2007-2009 global financial crisis, the company only saw one year of decreased earnings, then set a new record for per-share profits in the next fiscal year.

Cisco’s EPS history during the last recession can be seen below.

  • 2006 adjusted EPS: 89 cents
  • 2007 adjusted EPS: $1.17 (31.4% increase)
  • 2008 adjusted EPS: $1.31 (12.0% increase)
  • 2009 adjusted EPS: $1.05 (19.8% decrease)
  • 2010 adjusted EPS: $1.33 (26.7% increase)

Since Cisco’s nearly 20% decline in adjusted EPS in 2009, the company has seen that metric increase every year without exception. Thus, I would expect Cisco to perform reasonably well during the next recession.

Valuation & expected total returns

Future total returns for Cisco’s shareholders will be composed of valuation changes, dividend payments and growth in the company’s EPS.

One of the most appealing characteristics of Cisco’s stock right now is the company’s valuation.

Management is guiding for adjusted EPS between 60 cents and 62 cents for the fourth quarter of this year.

Taking the midpoint of this range and combining it with Cisco’s year-to-date adjusted EPS of $1.78 gives a full-year expectation of $2.39 in adjusted EPS.

Cisco’s stock is currently trading at $31.25, which is a remarkably low valuation of 13.1 times 2017’s expected earnings.

The following chart compares this valuation to Cisco’s long-term historical average.

Cisco Systems Valuation Analysis

Source: Value Line

Although Cisco’s current valuation is a bit higher than recent years, it is still well below the stock’s long-term average. It is also below the valuation of other similar technology stocks.

With that in mind, I believe the stock’s recent decline provides investors with a solid opportunity to initiate or add to a position in Cisco.

Cisco’s post-earnings decline has also pushed up its dividend yield. Cisco currently pays a quarterly dividend of 29 cents per share, which yields 3.7% on the company’s current stock price of $31.25.

Cisco’s current dividend yield is nearly twice that of the average yield in the S&P 500 index and will be an important part of shareholder returns moving forward.

The remainder of Cisco’s future shareholder returns will be driven by its earnings growth. Cisco has compounded earnings at a rate of 10.2% per year over the past decade.

Cisco is a much larger business than it was 10 years ago, however. Accordingly, its growth will likely slow. I believe a reasonable expectation is 6-8% earnings growth per year (on average) over full economic cycles.

Moving forward, the company’s shareholders will continue to be rewarded by Cisco’s shareholder-friendly capital allocation policies. Cisco returned approximately $2 billion of capital to its shareholders in the most recent quarter, divided into $0.5 billion of share repurchases and $1.5 billion of dividend payments.

More details about Cisco’s shareholder-friendly capital allocation can be seen below.

CSCO Cisco Capital Allocation

Source: Cisco Third Quarter Earnings Presentation, slide 11

Without a doubt, a continued reduction in Cisco’s share count will be a tailwind for the company’s earnings per share.

To conclude, Cisco’s total returns will be composed of:

For expected total returns of 9.7 to 11.7% before the impact of any valuation changes.

Final thoughts

Cisco looks to be a solid investment right now. It is the third-largest holding in  Joel Greenblatt (TradesPortfolio)'s portfolio.

Cisco’s attractiveness as an investment comes from its high dividend yield, strong competitive advantages and low valuation (particularly considering it is a technology stock). The company has a serious potential catalyst in the form of repatriation tax reform and will continue to benefit from the growing importance of cybersecurity technology.

For these reasons, Cisco’s post-earnings price decline represents a buying opportunity, not a reason to be fearful of this security.

Disclosure: I am not long any of the stocks mentioned in this article.

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About the author:

Ben Reynolds
I run Sure Dividend, a website that finds high quality dividend stocks for long term investors using the 8 Rules of Dividend Investing.

Visit Ben Reynolds's Website


Rating: 3.8/5 (5 votes)

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Comments

Roger Stera
Roger Stera premium member - 2 days ago

Thanks for the article.

Yes CSCO remains a very strong and robust company. Though growth hasn't been that spectacular and a lot of competetion (like Huawei) is trying to steal some market share from the higher end segment, Cisco has very good fundamentals.

It is on my watchlist but for these companies I'd like to see some more discount. So with a certain intrinsic value range I've calculated, and a margin of safety I'd like to see, I will be buying CSCO when it goes around US$ 24-26...

Disclosure: Not holding CSCO at this moment, no intention to do so within 72 hours (unless prices drops between 24-26 dollars :-)

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