Cisco Sounds a Worrisome Note

Did Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) just pull a Kindle? Or did it just take a sour bite of Apple TV?

This morning, Cisco introduced a "Wireless Home Audio system" to its Linksys customer base. Perusing the pages of this morning's Wall Street Journal, I can't help wondering whether Cisco's latest innovation more resembles Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) e-book reader, or Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) flailing answer to the never-ending quest for "convergence." Is it a promising new product that successfully leverages the company's strengths in networking, or just headed for middling sales? The new product pushes Cisco further into the consumer-electronics biz, which it entered with a vengeance after its 2003 and 2005 acquisitions of Linksys and Scientific-Atlanta, respectively. But that was then, and this is now.

When Cisco snapped up Scientific-Atlanta, the maker of set-top boxes for digital cable service, the U.S. economy was finally getting its mojo back after the last big recession, and catering to free-spending American consumers seemed like a bright move to make. Today, we've already passed the crest and are slipping back into Recession Redux. Turn the page in this morning's Journal, for example, and what do you see...?

Logitech sounds the alarm
... An earnings warning from Logitech (Nasdaq: LOGI  ) , like similar recent warnings from fellow electronics manufacturers Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) , Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) , and Philips (NYSE: PHG  ) .

Late Monday night, Logitech revoked its already-slashed guidance for this fiscal year. The company had previously anticipated as much as 5% growth in operating income. Now, analysts are now positing zero growth for Logitech, not just in fiscal 2009, but in 2010 as well. (Worse still, the company announced a 5% payroll cut. The severance costs from these layoffs mean we might actually see net profits decline.)

Back to Cisco
What's it all mean for Cisco? As the Journal correctly points out, Logitech's stock in trade is small-ticket consumer electronics -- computer mice, keyboards, some pretty cool TV remotes, not too far removed from the wireless routers and other home networking gadgets Linksys peddles. Selling affordable electronics like these has historically made Logitech management confident that it could grow earnings at 20% year-in and year-out and remain fairly resilient, whatever the economic conditions.

Yet now we learn that Logitech cannot grow earnings, and in fact seems poised to shrink them. If electronics consumers struggle to afford a new webcam or computer keyboard, they must be in dire straits indeed. How much do you want to bet they're better able to afford a fancy new Cisco audio system?

Seems to me that Cisco just bit Apple's worm: Right product, wrong time.

Amazon.com and Apple are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Check out either service free for 30 days. 

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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