Chambers Is Not to Blame

 | May 10, 2012 | 8:24 AM EDT
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I come to praise John Chambers, not to bury him. It's become totally fashionable to criticize the CEO of Cisco (CSCO), and I can see it. The business has been decelerating each quarter while Chambers and company have continued to buy back stock, somewhat mindlessly, buying 27 million shares  at $20.28 this quarter alone. Oops! Now it is $17!

But there is no denying that Chambers has put together a world-class team with world class products offering an end-to-end solution.

But what's going wrong with the outlook at Cisco is a serious matter, and it is one that is not Cisco's fault. In fact, Cisco has made tremendous strides to become a less bloated, more aggressive institution, offering a diverse product line that sells into much more than just the telco service providers and the enterprise. Cisco is the dominant Internet backbone, dominating the cloud, financial companies' tech needs and the needs of governments worldwide.

And that's where the problem lies. Cisco's everywhere and with the exception of a couple of industries, such as the cloud and the data center players, these customers are very worried or are cutting back and cutting back severely.

Cisco's salespeople are amazing. They are the first to know of slowdowns, and they are telling John of a real slowdown. He's then gotten deep into the organization and has confirmed that slowdown.

Some of that is cyclical and comes back. The enterprise can't afford not to spend to stay up with its Internet, telco and data needs. It can defer spending; it can't shut it down.

But the governments of the world? One of the amazing things that Cisco has done is to ingratiate itself to governments worldwide, and that has become a very difficult market. No, Cisco isn't offering solar solutions, ones that require subsidies, but it is providing services to ever-larger, ever-growing government needs when they aren't getting larger and aren't growing.

That's troubling. But it surely is not Cisco's fault.

I have little doubt that Cisco will bounce back. It's difficult to say when, though, because the slowdown is new and the chaos around the world, particularly in Europe, is too much for any worldwide tech company to continue to be bullish.

And it is not only Europe; our federal government has ground to a halt.  And that's going to hurt, too.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Cisco is using this moment to vanquish the competition whether it be Juniper (JNPR) or Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) or Alcatel (ALU) or whatever Asian company might be trying to get into the game at any given time.

It's just that you can't blame Cisco for the weakness. It's rare that I ever say this, but this time, the fault isn't with Chambers, it is with the stars.

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