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Comeback Kids: Cisco and Disney
Despite fears that the economy may be slowing, stocks like Cisco and Disney are picking up.
By Michael Sivy, Money Magazine editor-at-large

NEW YORK (MONEY) -- After a series of interest rate increases lasting more than two years, the Federal Reserve decided last week to hold rates steady. The chief reason for the change in policy was concern that the economy is slowing.

That slowdown may well be under way, but it hasn't prevented leading growth companies from turning in strong results.

Earnings for the second quarter reported by blue-chip companies have been running 13 percent ahead of year-earlier levels. And results are beating analysts' expectations -- positive surprises have outnumbered negative ones by more than four to one, according to Zacks Investment Research.

Among the companies announcing positive surprises last week were Cisco and Disney. Both stocks have been mediocre performers over the past two years, but are now picking up.

For the fourth quarter of the fiscal year ended July 29, Cisco (Charts) turned in an impressive 21 percent gain in total revenues. Most of that sales gain came from Cisco's leading position as the largest maker of Internet networking equipment. The rest came from the February acquisition of Scientific Atlanta, a leading maker of set-top cable television boxes.

Reported earnings for the quarter were nearly flat, largely because of one-time expenses connected with the Scientific Atlanta deal and new accounting rules concerning employee stock options. Without those special factors, earnings would have been up more than 15 percent, compared with a year earlier.

Analysts project compound annual growth of about 15 percent over the next five years. And Cisco has suggested that growth could be even higher during that period.

Sales overseas are strong. Domestically, the company should benefit from the growing popularity of Internet video and telephone service, both of which will require upgrading networking systems.

Those gains should be further leveraged because Cisco has steadily been buying back stock. The company repurchased $8.3 billion of stock in the last fiscal year and more than $35 billion since the buyback program began.

At a current $20.09, Cisco trades at 16.1 times earnings for the fiscal year that has just begun.

Disney's (Charts) earnings for the third fiscal quarter ended July 1, were up a stunning 36 percent on a 12 percent gain in revenues. That surpassed analysts' estimates by a substantial margin.

Most of Disney's divisions performed well. Movies, in particular, benefited from strong box office for "Cars" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." DVD sales of "Chronicles of Narnia" also were excellent.

Theme park attendance has been up, as have revenues from ABC and ESPN. Earnings have been comparably strong, except at ABC, where costs have cut into profits.

CEO Robert Iger has been focused on streamlining the company and reducing costs. Disney has sold its 50 percent share of US Weekly magazine and is also in the process of selling 22 ABC radio stations. That transaction is expected to be completed before year-end.

Although gains in movies and theme parks fluctuate from quarter to quarter, Disney's overall earnings growth is projected to average 12 percent annually over the next five years.

At a current $29.52, the stock trades at 17.7 times estimated earnings for the fiscal year ending in September 2007.

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Michael Sivy is an editor-at-large for Money Magazine. Sivy on Stocks runs each Tuesday at CNNMoney.com -- sign up to receive it by e-mail.  Top of page

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