Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cisco Comments: Mixed Signals, Recovery has slowed

by Bill McBride on 8/11/2010 06:45:00 PM

A few excerpts from the Cisco Conference call (ht Brian):

“... there are some challenges that are contributing to an unusual amount of conservatism and even caution. In short, we see the same opportunities and challenges that you are reading about in regards to the market, those challenges ranging from GDP growth and future GDP projections continuing to flow in the US, job creation challenges, and concerns coming out of Europe just to mention a few. We are seeing a large number of mixed signals in both the market and from our customers' expectations, and we think the words unusual uncertainty are an accurate description of what is occurring. The Federal Reserve's comments yesterday that the pace and output of the recovery has slowed in recent months and that the recovery is likely to be more modest in the near term then has been anticipated just a few months ago, are comments that most of our large customers that I have talked with recently would agree with. Also, the same customers would agree with few exceptions that they still expect a very gradual return to more normal economic conditions.”
As has been our standing practice for some time, we are continuing to provide detailed quarterly guidance one quarter at a time. In light of the unusual uncertainty in the macro environment, including the comments we heard from the Federal Reserve yesterday, we encourage you to continue to model conservatively, especially in the short term. It is important that expectations do not get ahead of where the market is today. We do intend to budget in two halves for our fiscal year and will obviously be conservative, and we would suggest you do the same.
What are the areas that [we] have the most concern about? The answer for me this quarter is, I am concerned about what my customers are concerned about. And most of these customer concerns are centered on what they view as mixed signals in their business environment, therefore, their strategy in the short-term in terms of investments and projections for their businesses. As an example, the economy continues to be on the wild card in many customers' minds. We are all aware of GDP growth in the US slowing from 5% to 3.7% to 2.4% over the last three quarters. Many of the customers we talk with are anticipating growth of only 2% or so in the second half of the calendar year. Yet, at the same time, many of these same customers are seeing steadily improving results in their own companies. But when you press them on their comfort level to predict either of these trends over the next year, candidly many of them are not comfortable at all. This is this one of the many examples of today's uncertainty and environment that we are -- that is sending such mixed signals to us and others about the customer's capital spending and job creation intention over the next year. Another example of mixed signals would be our own product order pattern for Q4. On first review, the 23% year-over-year growth in product orders was obviously very strong, and the monthly results, which we tend to follow in terms of linearity, were well within our normal expectations in each of the three months in Q4. In fact, actually almost exactly on as a percentage of what we would have expected in each month. However, several of our customers shared with me that they saw a softening in their business in the second half of June and early July. Upon review, we saw a similar pattern of approximately four to five weeks from mid-June to mid-July where the normal order growth rates were off over 10 points versus our quarter's 23% average. Normally I would not have paid much attention to this, except this is the exact time period where we saw the challenges in Europe and the corresponding challenges in global stock markets. Then, just as the quarter had started in May, the end of July was very strong, well above average for the quarter in terms of year-over-year growth rates from an order perspective.
Cisco's quarter ends July 31st, and they saw weakness in late June and into July that most of the other tech companies missed (most end Q2 on June 30th). Investment in equipment and software has been one of the strongest components of GDP, and Cisco's comments suggest this investment is slowing.