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Motley Fool: Tech dividends

Cisco’s growth rates seem dismal, but its core business should heat up again after the pandemic passes.  (Courtesy photo)
Cisco’s growth rates seem dismal, but its core business should heat up again after the pandemic passes. (Courtesy photo)

Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO), the world’s largest producer of networking routers and switches, has posted declining revenue for four straight quarters. Its infrastructure business, which generates over half its revenue, struggled with sluggish network upgrades, competition from rivals, the loss of Chinese contracts during the ongoing trade war and pandemic-related disruptions. Its smaller security business continued growing, but couldn’t offset its other weaknesses.

Cisco’s revenue declined 5% in fiscal 2020, but its adjusted earnings grew 4% as it cut costs and repurchased more shares. Analysts expect both its revenue and earnings to dip by about 1% this year. Those growth rates might seem dismal, but Cisco’s core business should heat up again after the pandemic passes. Warmer relations between the U.S. and China under the Biden administration could stabilize Cisco’s Chinese business, and it might pull customers away from Huawei as the Chinese tech giant struggles with trade blacklists and sanctions. A growing need for cloud and data center upgrades should also spark fresh orders for its routers and switches worldwide.

Cisco’s stock isn’t likely to rally anytime soon, but its low forward-looking price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 14 and its recent dividend yield of 3.2% should limit its downside risk. It’s raised its dividend every year following its first payment in 2011, and is likely to keep doing so. Consider Cisco for your long-term portfolio.

Ask the Fool

Q: What’s a stock’s “multiple”? – D.W., Naples, Florida

A: It’s a ratio of two measures of a company. One of the most common multiples is the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, which is the stock’s current price divided by its earnings per share. Imagine Scruffy’s Chicken Shack (ticker: BUKBUK), trading at $80 per share. If it earned $4 per share over the past year, its P/E is 20 (80 divided by 4). It’s trading at a P/E ratio of 20.

There are also price-to-sales multiples, book-value multiples, cash-flow multiples and more. It can be helpful to compare a company’s multiples with those of its peers, to see whether its stock appears to be undervalued or overvalued. Nike, for example, recently sported a P/E ratio that was over 82, while Adidas’ was not quite 41. That suggests that Adidas is more attractively priced, though of course you’d want to assess many more factors.

Q: What’s the difference between a private company and a public one? – C.B., Bozeman, Montana

A: Public companies have shares of stock available to trade on the open markets. They’re required to file quarterly earnings reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission, detailing revenue, expenses, debt loads, cash levels, taxes, income or losses – and much more. These reports are publicly available.

Privately held companies are not public – meaning average investors can’t buy shares of them. They also don’t have to reveal much about their operations and financial health. According to Forbes, the 100 biggest private companies in America include Koch Industries, Cargill, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Publix, Mars, H-E-B, Pilot Flying J, Enterprise Holdings (parent of the car-rental company), Bechtel, Cox Enterprises, Fidelity Investments, Bloomberg, SC Johnson, McKinsey & Company, Staples and Amway.

My smartest investment

My smartest investment ever was leaving my hometown and broadening my horizons. – M.I., online

The Fool responds: That’s a terrific investment indeed. There are countless benefits of traveling: By exposing yourself to other regions and countries, you can get a sense of how other people live – which may help you appreciate just how good you have it compared to billions of others. Getting to know people in other places can help you get over any fears of outsiders or foreigners, and enjoying their hospitality can make you feel like a citizen of the world, not just your state or country. You may even end up making some very good friends around the country or the world.

Trying a wide variety of foods from various cuisines can introduce you to flavors and dishes that become lifelong favorites.

Travel abroad can be greatly enhanced if you take the time to learn the language spoken at your destination – and knowing at least one other language can also be an effective career booster, as lots of companies have (or want to have) international operations and may send employees to other countries.

Travel can boost your self-confidence, as you navigate unfamiliar locations and successfully deal with unexpected events (such as missing a train in Japan). Finally, travel can simply be fun and exciting, and it creates memories to look back on for the rest of your life.

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