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CSCO is up 8.5% in the last month – is it a good buy?

Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) is one of the most recognizable and established companies in the Technology sector. With a market cap of about $200 billion, they are also one of the largest, if not THE largest player in the Networking & Communications segment. They are, without question, the standard that all other networking businesses are measured and compete against. No matter whether you’re talking about wired or wireless networking, CSCO is one of the companies that not only developed the standards and infrastructure the entire Internet is built on today, but that continues to lead the way into the future, including cloud-based computing and the next generation of technology in the so-called “Internet of Things” (IoT).

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It’s ironic, perhaps that despite CSCO’s unquestioned dominance in its industry, the stock has mostly languished for nearly two decades. After riding the “dot-com boom” of the late 1990’s to a peak at around $80 per share, the stock cratered when that boom went bust, dropping to as low as about $8 in late 2002. From that point it never rose higher than into the low $30 range – at least not until the latter part of 2017, when the stock finally broke that top-end resistance. That pushed the stock to a high in May a little above $46 per share as Tech stocks generally prospered. 2019 started off pretty well for investors in the stock, as well; the stock increased about 30% from its late December 2018 low around $40 per share, and hit a new multi-year high a little above $58 in mid-July.

From that high, however, the stock took the brunt of new tensions on the trade front that pressured the entire tech sector for most of 2019. From that July high, the stock dropped a little more than -20% to a low price in December a little below $44. From that point, the stock has used the market’s latest momentum to push high and stage the beginnings of a new short-term upward trend. That moves means that the question at this point for a stock like CSCO – one of the unquestioned “600-pound gorillas” of tech stocks – is whether this current bounce marks a good new technical set up to “buy the dip” and ride a new bullish wave of momentum and sentiment.

While I recognize CSCO’s dominance in its industry, expect it to continue, and can readily attest to the company’s core fundamental strength, my reliance on value analysis also forces me to look at the stock’s current price in more conservative terms. Even as the stock remains well below its 52-week high, CSCO continues to look very overvalued. The stock crated after its November earnings report came in lower than analysts expected, with much of the decline attributed to trade-related headwinds. And while progress on the trade front is encouraging, giving the market the basis for the last rally in the broad market and in CSCO, I also believe that tangible indications of fundamental improvements for the entire Tech sector aren’t going to be seen for some time – provided that a tangible, and real trade deal between the U.S. and China proceeds past the “Phase One” stage that is expected to be signed this week. Until then, most analysts are predicting that businesses will likely wait to make any significant investments in new networking or cloud-based solutions, opting instead to make do with what they already have. That means that for the time being, I believe the long-term prospects for CSCO’s stock may be limited. Let’s dive in to the numbers so you can decide for yourself.

Fundamental and Value Profile

Cisco Systems, Inc. (CSCO) designs and sells a range of products, provides services and delivers integrated solutions to develop and connect networks around the world. The Company operates through three geographic segments: Americas; Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), and Asia Pacific, Japan and China (APJC). The Company groups its products and technologies into various categories, such as Switching; Next-Generation Network (NGN) Routing; Collaboration; Data Center; Wireless; Service Provider Video; Security, and Other Products. In addition to its product offerings, the Company provides a range of service offerings, including technical support services and advanced services. The Company delivers its technology and services to its customers as solutions for their priorities, including cloud, video, mobility, security, collaboration and analytics. The Company serves customers, including businesses of all sizes, public institutions, governments and service providers. CSCO has a market cap of $199.9 billion.

Earnings and Sales Growth: Over the last twelve months, earnings grew by 13.24%, while sales growth was flat, but positive, at 0.67%. Growing earnings faster than sales is hard to do, and generally not sustainable in the long-term; however it is also a positive mark of management’s ability to maximize their business operations. In the most recent quarter, earnings grew 1.32% while sales declined -2%. CSCO has a very healthy operating profile, with Net Income running at 21.15% of Revenues over the last twelve months. That number declined in the last quarter to 22.23%, but even so remains healthy.

Free Cash Flow: CSCO’s free cash flow over the last twelve months is $14.8 billion. This is a number that the company has historically managed to maintain at very healthy levels and translates to a Free Cash Flow Yield of 7.38%.

Debt to Equity: CSCO has a conservative, manageable debt-to-equity ratio of .42. CSCO’s balance sheet shows more than $28 billion in cash and liquid assets versus about $14.4 billion in long-term debt. Servicing their debt is not a concern, and liquidity to pursue additional expansion or return value to shareholders via stock buyback or increased dividends is excellent.

Dividend: CSCO currently pays an annual dividend of $1.40 per share, which translates to an annual yield of about 2.97% at the stock’s current price.

Price/Book Ratio: there are a lot of ways to measure how much a stock should be worth; but one of the simplest methods that I like uses the stock’s Book Value, which for CSCO is $8.11 per share; this is where the biggest cracks in the bargain argument really exist. At the stock’s current price, its Price/Book ratio, at 5.81, is more than twice as high as its historical average of 3.58; a drop to par with that average puts the stock at risk of a decline of about -38.5% to around $29 per share from its current price. Working with the stock’s Price/Cash Flow ratio is somewhat more favorable, but still overvalued, since the stock is -7% above its historical average, providing a “fair value” target a little below $44 per share.

Technical Profile

Here’s a look at the stock’s latest technical chart.

Current Price Action/Trends and Pivots: The diagonal red line traces the stock’s upward trend from late December 2018 to mid-July and provides the reference for calculating the Fibonacci retracement levels indicated by the horizontal red lines on the right side of the chart. The stock’s decline from that point followed a rapid, steep slope, with a bottom for the stock found at about $43.75 per share. From that point, the stock has rallied sharply, rising about 9% to the 50% retracement line at around $48 per share. The stock has dropped a bit from that point, with support between $46 and $47 per share. A drop below $46 would give the stock room to drop to about $44, back around the stock’s December low point. A break above the stock’s recent peak at $48 should see the stock push quickly to about $50, where the 38.2% retracement rests, and with $52 available next if bullish momentum picks up.

Near-term Keys: If the stock breaks above $48, you could have a good short-term opportunity to buy the stock or work with call options, with a profit target between $50 and $52 depending on the strength of bullish momentum.  A drop below $46 would mark a good signal to short the stock or to buy put options, using a target price between $40 and $44 to close out the trade and lock in profits. Despite the stock’s solid fundamentals, it can’t be said to offer a useful value-based opportunity at these current levels; the stock would actually need to drop to around $23 to constitute a legitimate bargain.

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