Cisco Systems Earnings Call Nuggets: Conservative Guidance and Book-To-Bill

Cisco Systems Inc (NASDAQ:CSCO) recently reported its fourth quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Conservative Guidance

Tal Liani – Bank of America Merrill Lynch: I have kind of a blunt question. If the environment is improving, why are you guiding a little bit conservative and why are you laying off 4,000 people, which is about 5% of your workforce, if I understand correctly?

John T. Chambers – Chairman and CEO: Sure. So, the environment, in terms of our businesses is improving slightly, but nowhere near the pace that we want. You know what product orders have done, minus the acquisition and spinouts, because that gives you a feeling for what our growth is going to be and those will bump them up or down. It’s just not growing at the speed we want. The inconsistency of global GDP growth and, about the time you see Northern Europe start to get stronger, you see the issues in emerging markets start to get softer. You see us successful in one category, switching and you see us not as successful except in the Edge in terms of the routing. You begin to see a balance which was 13% growth in emerging markets, back down to 8% in terms of the opportunity. So the combination of weakness in APJC offsetting what went on in Europe, the strength in the U.S. offset by what went on in the emerging markets et cetera is kind of leveling off. So, Tal, what we see is slow, steady improvement, but not at the pace we want. Now, if we are going to lead in this industry, the one thing I’ve learned over the years is you are the first mover. We have to very quickly reallocate the resources. So, about a fair amount of that 4,000 people will be allocated to new growth opportunities. The second thing is, even though, Gary, I think you and I would agree, we were very pleased with how we made progress in the last two years on speeding up decisions. In today’s marketplace they are almost up exponentially on how quickly not only decisions have to be made, but how quickly you implement those. Those need to be done with small teams. We just have too much in the middle of the organization. When you have that type of layers and span of controls, without meaning to, very well-meaning people begin to really look at how they add value to the decisions made, and Rob, we’re just not moving with the speed that we need in this area. So you’re going to see us focus very much in this area on span of control and also layers. It’s all about speed or pace in this new industry, which we intend to balance in. Third, we make commitments on our financial model which we are absolutely sticking to. You’ve heard our commitment, 61%, 62% gross margins. You heard our commitment to operating margin, 27.5% to 28.5%. You’ve seen our commitments to growing earnings on most quarters faster than revenues; and we see a market where we’re gaining market share even at these lower numbers. Everywhere, we run business in the world, grows and keeps expenses in line with revenue growth and driving up productivity, candidly, we didn’t drive productivity this last year. So, with the change in the macroeconomic environment, and you saw this from the Fed officials, you’ve seen it in all the forecast from emerging countries et cetera, and you saw it in our business numbers, with inconsistent data even in our own operations which tends to be more lumpy than I like to see, this is just good business management. And I’ve learned in this industry you lead with your mind, not with your heart and this is something that we think will allow us to grow our profits, but also most important to achieve the number one position in the industry and move our resources very quickly to the growth opportunities. If this were normal pace, you can move those resources over two years with attrition and realignment. But I think Gary given what we want to do on speed and organizational structure and our ability to move fast you are going to see us target that 4,000 people, we’re obviously going to hire back part of them in other categories and realign where we need to go for growth. So, Tal, that’s a blunt question. My key takeaway is I am real pleased with our momentum in the market. It just does not growing as fast as we need and there are enough inconsistencies in the market. We think not to remain agile and flexible to be able to grow, for our growth markets quickly putting the resources behind that is needed. This is what we strongly believe we do as a Company.

Book-To-Bill

Simona Jankowski – Goldman Sachs & Co.: I just wanted to clarify some of the moving pieces around the guidance and then I had a question. But in terms of the clarification there were just a bunch of data points that pointed in opposite directions. I think you said your book-to-bill was comfortably above 1. I was your deferred revenue was up 6% sequentially yet the backlog was down and the guidance we saw some deceleration. So if you can just kind of reconcile those conflicting data points? And then in terms of the question it seems like some of the weakness was in your service provider business and orders. I think you said in the America they are declined, routing was also flat. But when we look at the end of carrier spending in North America, in particular, it seems actually to have strengthened in the last few months. So if you can just help us understand that as well?

John T. Chambers – Chairman and CEO: Let me take the book-to-bill, would you take the other two financial questions then I’ll take the service provider question. The book-to-bill was in line with our normal Q4s. It was very comfortably over 1 and I mean very comfortably in line with what we normally see. In terms of the quarter, linearity to the indirect part of your question, the first month of the quarter was lighter than we would like, second month was very consistent, third month was more stronger in terms of the linearity. Maybe, Frank, to the other two issues and then I’ll do the service provider question.

Frank Calderoni – EVP and CFO: Yeah, John. So overall, Simona, I would say that we were very pleased with the performance throughout the year, 6% top line growth, 9% from a non-GAAP EPS growth. And if you look at the momentum throughout the year, I think we were fairly consistent. We started to see improvement as the year unfolded, especially in the back half of the year, if we start to look at the order rates. As you know, we had flat orders in the first two quarters and then we started to get order growth rate of 4% in Q3, 4% in Q4. So we got some good momentum. I think that also helped with the backlog, kind of where John mentioned before, and then we also have deferred revenue, as you mentioned, which was up about 6% at the end of the year. So I think from a trend standpoint, we’re first of all pleased with how the quarter closed – the year closed and we are also pleased with the momentum that we started to see at the end of the year. Now the guidance for Q1 that I gave was 3% to 5% on a year-on-year basis from a revenue standpoint, and then also from an EPS, $0.50 to $0.51 non-GAAP EPS. So that’s slightly down from what we normally see sequentially. Some of that has to do with what John was talking about, about some of the inconsistencies that we’re seeing, and we’re trying to be with those inconsistencies a little bit conservative as we’re looking into the start of a fiscal year, and as fiscal year going into Q1 always has some challenges here or there. And so we’re taking that into consideration. Again, the slight decline from a profitability standpoint, we want to make sure that we can continue to drive the margins, very consistent margins in the last two years from a growth, and then improving margins from an operating income, we want to make sure that we’re consistently following through, staying committed to the long-term model, 5% to 7% long-term growth, 7% to 9% non-GAAP EPS growth, getting our operating margins, as I said, in that high 20% range. So, we’re trying to balance all that as we go into a new fiscal year and making sure that everything is aligned to investing in the most effective innovation growth opportunities that we see over the next 12 months.

John T. Chambers – Chairman and CEO: Simona, to your question on service provider, I could not be more comfortable with where we are in our service provider architecture and key customers. Their spending does tend to be lumpy, by service provider group and category, and if you watch to the indirect (indiscernible) in the Edge with ASR 9000, which compares to the Juniper MX although I think it’s vastly superior which grew 43% in the quarter. We do a little bit more revenue, I think, than the Juniper MX does, but if you were in the Edge market, in fixed edge this quarter and you didn’t do well, you had a real problem. Now if I back into that number, Juniper’s total growth was 6% and you take 43% for $350 million, all their growth was in this one product category. There’s a little bit of bleed over the ASR 9000 into the core, and a little bit of bleed over in terms of other peer (competitive) products in the core, but we outgrew all of our peers here comfortably. Our problem in service providers was in the cable set-top boxes and the cable companies. Our business was down Q3 to Q4 by 40%. Usually Q3 to Q4 goes up comfortably. This is part of our focus on profitable set-top boxes in a market that is becoming very tough, almost commodity like. We’ve got to be able to take set-top box business and migrate it to the cloud and implement it very successfully within that. To the other part of the question, we did extremely well in the large two carriers, growing comfortably well above 20%. So, this is an issue that you’re talking about, core networks being loaded, not at the level quite that we’d like to see in the numbered accounts, from a CapEx slowdown, but largely an issue with set-top box is affecting us disproportionately, and again, this is part of a conscious decision to drive profitability on our overall gross margins.

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