Networking stocks like Brocade Communications, Juniper Networks and Emulex have been scarred even more than all tech stocks in the past week's market tumult because of fears networking is slowing.
Even Cisco Systems, the king of the networking sector, wasn't spared. On Tuesday, its shares set 52-week low of $13.36, or a 45 percent loss in a year. They closed at $14.06.
On Wednesday, the No. 1 maker of network routers and switches is scheduled to report fourth-quarter results. As always in the technology world, the pace of new orders will be crucial. Now, with fears of a general recession that could depress data communications, that could count even more.
"The macro environment will continue to be challenging in networking," said Rohit Chopra of Wedbush Securities. Despite his wariness, he believes Cisco will outperform the market and set an $18 target.
Still, in a week when world stock markets are in turmoil --in part because they are all electronically intertwined with gear from Cisco, Juniper, Brocade and their rivals, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Huawei Technologies -- it's hard to believe network traffic is easing anywhere.
Whether it's Egyptian protesters IM'ing one another about demonstration sites or fans Twittering away all day on any kind of topic, the consumer electronics explosion is mushrooming data communications traffic. The enterprise providers that support it require backbone, which is Cisco's bread and butter.
A critical measure in the financial report will be orders from the "public sector," or government agencies, from the U.S. government to state university systems, which have been strapped for cash lately. For Cisco, the San Jose, California leader, public sector orders have generally accounted for 20 percent of revenue.
At UBS, analyst Nikos Theodosoupolos sees "continued softness in public sector spending," which could hold down orders for the entire sector. He's neutral on Cisco, whose price he estimates could reach $17.
Last Friday, Brocade shares plummeted 30 percent after the San Jose, California networking company said as much as $50 million in third quarter revenue hadn't materialized. Brocade blamed the "public sector."
Last quarter, Cisco CEO John Chambers explained the growth rate from government agencies had drastically fallen, from 30 percent a year ago to only 8 percent in the period ended April 30.
His company didn't have any easy quarter, anyway. Announcing a plan to trim $1 billion from corporate expenses, Cisco last month said it would fire about 6,500 employees. Then it said it will close a factory in Mexico that employs a further 5,000 people which came with the 2006 takeover of Scientific-Atlanta, the maker of set-top boxes and specialized video communications gear.
Cisco acquired Scientific-Atlanta for nearly $7 billion in 2006 and more recently paid $3 billion for Tandberg, the Norwegian developer of video servers used for videoconferencing as well as to manage cable TV systems.
Meanwhile, Cisco could tap some of its cash pile, which exceeded $43 billion last quarter, to please shareholders. It pays a meager 43 cent annual dividend. Conceivably, Chambers could announce a stock buyback, similar to what other technology stars like Microsoft have done.
But investors didn't buy Cisco for the dividend. It was for the capital gain. Nothing would do more for the company in the current choppy weather than to announce a bucketful of new orders and new services on tap for the current fiscal year.