Can Cisco save the day?
If CEO John Chambers is confident about the networking giant's prospects, that will be good news. But look out below if he starts talking about 'lumpy' conditions.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Cisco Systems' chairman and CEO John Chambers is Alan Greenspan with a sweet, honey-dripped drawl.
The market hangs on Chambers' every word during analyst conference calls just as investors parsed every utterance from the former Federal Reserve chairman.
Cisco will report results for its fiscal second-quarter after the closing bell Wednesday. Analysts expect sales and earnings growth of roughly 15%.
Beyond those numbers, Wall Street is hoping Chambers might have some encouraging things to say about his customers' spending habits and the economy. Good news is certainly needed after yesterday's ISM report about the services industry sent the market tumbling to its worst day of the year.
Can Cisco deliver? Chambers used the term "lumpy" seven times to describe business conditions during the company's last conference call in November. Cisco's stock plunged 9.5% the next day and helped drag down the Nasdaq.
But some experts are starting to think that expectations for Cisco - and all of tech - are now unreasonably low.
One analyst who works for a major mutual fund firm that owns Cisco shares said that Cisco may be able to report healthy results even if the U.S. market shows signs of weakness because demand is still strong in India, China and the Middle East.
"There is some weakness in the U.S., particularly from big financial services customers," the analyst said. "But what we're seeing in the last couple of days is a worst case scenario being expected. Cisco may plow through this because there are lots of places on the planet way behind North America and Europe in terms of building out networks."
The analyst pointed out that Cisco is now near a historically low valuation - it trades at just 14.6 times earnings estimates for this year despite expectations of earnings growth of 19%.
In fact, the analyst said good news from Cisco could help confirm that many tech companies are still in good shape.
"There has been a huge rotation out of technology this year. Research in Motion (RIMM), Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500), Nokia (NOK), Cisco and all the big market cap stocks have [fallen] a ton this year. But it's not like there's that much wrong with the fundamentals for tech," the analyst said.
Ted Parrish, co-manager of the Henssler Equity fund, a value fund that owns Cisco shares, said that he also believes Cisco will report good results. But he's a little worried that Chambers, who has been notoriously cautious since the tech and dot-com meltdown of 2000, may not express too excitement.
"John Chambers is a very conservative guy. I don't think he's going to come out and pound the table," Parrish said. "This should be a great quarter but Chambers may find a way to take the oomph out of it."
That said, Parrish also thinks now is a good time to investigate buying select tech stocks. He said he's been considering purchases of storage company EMC (EMC, Fortune 500) and graphics chip maker Nvidia (NVDA). He's yet to pull the trigger though.
But if Chambers can avoid using "lumpy" too many times tonight though, then that could help restore a little confidence in the tech sector and propel the Nasdaq, and maybe even the whole market, higher.
Update. On Monday, I suggested that investors should take a close look at the quarterly reports coming out from media companies this week for clues about whether we are in a recession.
For what it's worth, the news is mostly good. News Corp (NWS, Fortune 500). CEO Rupert Murdoch said on Monday that his company was not seeing signs of weakness hitting advertising just yet. And Disney (DIS, Fortune 500) blew away analysts' earnings targets last night thanks largely to strength in its theme parks business, a division that some suspected could take a hit from a pullback in consumer spending.
This, of course, doesn't negate the woeful reading we saw from the ISM services report yesterday but it is at least a sign that the Chicken Little headlines about the consumer and economy may be a little overblown.