(By Mani) Networking gear maker Cisco, Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO) delivered a small beat with steady execution and strong wireless and data center growth in its fourth quarter.
The key highlight of Cisco's results was the 75 percent hike in the quarterly dividend to 14 cents a share, suggesting that the company's growth rate has become increasingly correlated to global GDP, and it is accepting its position and returning its cash to investors with a major dividend boost.
Cisco generated $3.1 billion in cash from operations during the quarter and ended the quarter with $48.7 billion in cash/investments, of which about 13 percent is held domestically, with the remaining 87 percent held overseas.
In this scenario, some investors may wonder whether Cisco can pay both the increased dividend and buyback shares at the same time. The new dividend is payable on Oct. 24 to all shareholders of record on Oct. 4.
Cisco wants to return at least 50 percent of its free cash flow through dividends and repurchases and is expected to generate free cash flow of $11 billion for fiscal 2013.
"With $3B allocated to dividends, Cisco may have ~$2.5B left for repurchases, below the historical range of $3.7B to $10.4B, implying less capacity to offset new share issuance. We do, nonetheless, believe Cisco may be able to pay its dividend and keep its total shares outstanding down or at least flat in the near term," RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Sue said in a client note.
Cisco repurchased $1.8 billion in common stock during the quarter for a total of 108 million shares at an average price of $16.62. There is currently $5.9 billion remaining under Cisco's existing repurchase authorization.
Moreover, Cisco's new dividend of 14 cents a share implies about 3.2 percent dividend yield, which places it above its large-cap peer group. In comparison, the average increase has been 25 percent from other large cap tech peers.
For instance, IBM, which has consistently increased its dividend every year over the past 10 years, increases its dividend by an average of 20 percent, while Intel, which has also increased its dividend over the past 10 years, averages an increase of 34 percent.
Comparing Cisco's dividend yield with that of its other large cap tech peers, Intel leads with a dividend yield of 3.4 percent, followed by Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) at 2.6 percent, Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE:HPQ) at 2.5 percent, Apple, Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) at 1.7 percent, International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM) at 1.7 percent and Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) at 1.6 percent.
Cisco paid a dividend of 8 cents per share in the quarter for a total cash payment of $425 million. Over the past four quarters, Cisco has now spent $1.5 billion on dividend payments.
"These moves should express confidence in the model to investors, while putting Cisco's dividend on par with Intel and Microsoft. There's also potential upside if the US tax code is revised allowing repatriation of international cash," Oppenheimer analyst Ittai Kidron wrote in a note to clients.
Meanwhile, the company's quarterly earnings per share just managed to beat analysts consensus view as did its quarterly sales. San Jose, California-based Cisco reported fourth-quarter net income of $1.9 billion or 36 cents a share, up from $1.2 billion or 22 cents per share for the year-ago quarter. Excluding items, it earned 47 cents per share, topping Street view by a penny.
Cisco, which makes the routers and switches that are vital for the functioning of computer, telecom traffic and the Internet, generated net sales to $11.69 billion, up 4.4 percent from last year and beat consensus revenue estimate of $11.60 billion.
Looking ahead, Cisco sees gross margins may come in between 61 percent and 62 percent in the first quarter. Due to an accounting classification adjustment, Cisco expects cost of goods sold related to NDS revenues to increase, while NDS related opex will correspondingly decline, thereby impacting the gross margins for NDS revenues. Cisco estimates the impact of this classification to be neutral to the company's overall margins over fiscal 2013.
Though, the environment continues to be challenging, the results and steady guidance, which takes numerous headwinds into account, should alleviate investor concerns and sets a performance baseline for fiscal 2013.
"The question now becomes more of a when will the environment improve, giving Cisco greater opportunities to deliver upside," Kidron said.