More than once over the past couple of decades, networking giant Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) has been lumped in with other hardware stocks, and rightfully so. For the better part of its existence, Cisco stock has been an investment in networking hardware. Its business has been mostly dependent on enterprise-level IT upgrades.
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As the underlying technologies have changed, however, so too have Cisco’s opportunities. It’s still a hardware name to be sure, but it’s also a software name. It’s even becoming a recurring revenue platform.
This paradigm shift didn’t even come close to staving off a huge setback in August. CSCO stock fell from its July peak near $58 to last month’s low around $46, with most of the selloff sparked by lackluster guidance for the quarter now underway. Headwinds in China also concerned shareholders.
The dip is ultimately an opportunity to step into a misunderstood and undervalued name.
CSCO Stock Undervalued, Underappreciated
The post-earnings response was understandable.
Cisco stock was already fighting a losing battle, peeling back from its July peak after announcing its intent to acquire Acacia Communications (NASDAQ:ACIA). Despite topping earnings and revenue estimates for the three-month stretch ending in July and pumping up the top line by 6%, earnings guidance of between 80 and 82 cents per share for its first fiscal quarter of 2020 wasn’t the 83 cents analysts were modeling. Sales growth could also be flat for the quarter underway, following a 25% tumble in the previous quarter’s China-driven revenue. Though the top end of Cisco’s guidance was 2%, it was still short of consensus projections of 2.5%.
The steep 20% selloff, however, largely ignores the fact that Cisco stock is now trading at 18.7 times its trailing earnings and only 13.6 times its forward-looking income.
There are cheaper stocks out there, but there aren’t cheaper stocks out there like CSCO. Indeed, even the usual valuation measures don’t apply without a footnote. In this case that footnote is $33.4 billion worth of liquid assets or outright cash sitting on Cisco’s balance sheet, versus its market cap of $201 billion.
The valuation also doesn’t reflect the fact that, although it’s been occasionally uneven thanks to new competition from the likes of Juniper Networks (NYSE:JNPR) and Arista Networks (NYSE:ANET), Cisco hasn’t failed to produce some level of profit in any quarter for over a decade. That includes the 2008 recession prodded by the subprime mortgage meltdown.
And that reliability is only poised to improve.
Cisco Embraces Subscriptions
The company has arguably touted the idea more than it’s mattered yet. Nevertheless, recurring revenue is a key part of its new business model.
For the record, it’s actually been a piece of the Cisco strategy as far back as 2017. That’s when the tech giant launched its first-ever subscription-based product leveraging its Catalyst 9000 networking platform. But, CEO Chuck Robbins explained in March that recurring revenue should make up 30% of the company’s total business within the next three years.
To that end, as of the recently ended quarter, software subscriptions made up 70% of total software revenue. Applications and services only accounted for a little more than one-third of Cisco’s total business.
It’s not clear if the company’s fiscal trajectory is on pace to reach the goal. The paradigm shift within the technology arena favors Cisco exceeding that goal rather than falling short of it.
One only has to look at the evolution of cloud computing to see renting rather than owning is the new norm. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) has built a multi-billion dollar business on the premise of providing access to remote servers to organizations that don’t want a giant server bank on-site, or can’t afford the cash needed to outright buy a data center.
Cybersecurity service provider FireEye (NASDAQ:FEYE) has taken the idea a step further. It provides an entire suite of cloud-based digital security solutions that in the past would have been installed on-premise. Its customers enjoy the fact that for a small recurring fee, their service providers keep that cloud-based software, service and storage up-to-date.
Amazon and FireEye like the fact that the underlying contracts make for predictable revenue.
The trend dovetails nicely into Cisco’s relatively new software-based routing platforms like its SD-WAN, which automatically remain up-to-date and secure without any major maintenance needed on the user’s end. In the past, major improvements may have required a much more expensive purchase of new hardware.
The Bottom Line for Cisco Stock
It’s all still a work in progress making it difficult to pinpoint where Cisco will be three years from now. Indeed, it’s difficult to say where the company will be one year from now. To the extent its risk and potential can be weighed, however, Cisco stock looks like a buy-worthy bargain here.
Headlines spurred an emotional response last month, which resulted in a knee-jerk selloff. Weakness in China didn’t help in that regard. A closer inspection of the numbers would have made clear that Asia still only accounts for 15% of total revenue.
Either way, with a potential end to the tariff war looming at the same time the company is just getting very, very good at revenue-steadying subscriptions, this beaten-down iconic name just might make for a decent addition to most portfolios.
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