You're Crazy to Short This Networking Stock

I'm a believer in growth stocks. As an analyst for our Motley Fool Rule Breakers service, I think you should be a believer, too. But even I have to admit some growth stories are bogus, hence this regular series.

Next up: Brocade Communications Systems (Nasdaq: BRCD  ) . Is this maker of networked storage devices the real thing? Let's get to the numbers.

Foolish facts

Metric

Brocade Communications Systems

CAPS stars (5 max)

****

Total ratings

734

Percent bulls

94.4%

Percent bears

5.6%

Bullish pitches

105 out of 116

Highest rated peers

ShoreTel, Digi International, Spirent Communications

Data current as of Sept. 27.

Last year, I wondered aloud if Brocade was an emerging value play among penny stocks. The stock is up more than 85% since, a sound market beater. But is this resurgence reflective of a broader growth story? Fools aren't sure it matters.

My Foolish colleague, Eric Jhonsa, calls Brocade a buyout candidate, citing rumors that IBM would make a bid in light of the healthy appetites of competitors Oracle and Hewlett-Packard. Or as another of my colleagues, Anders Bylund, puts it: "Not because it's a great stand-alone business, but because there are hungry sharks in the water. This is a pure buyout play for me."

Smart. In terms of valuation, Brocade is no longer as cheap. The stock entered the day trading for just under 11 times current-year earnings, about in line with the 10% annual earnings growth analysts expect Brocade to achieve over the long term.

The elements of growth

Metric

Last 12 Months

2009

2008

Normalized net income growth

(2.6%)

(84.8%)

30.1%

Revenue growth

12.9%

33.1%

18.6%

Gross margin

52.4%

52.9%

58.7%

Receivables growth

(1.7%)

87.4%

(9.6%)

Shares outstanding

452.5 million

434 million

371.9 million

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

For the most part, Brocade is heading in the wrong direction. Let's review:

  • Net income growth has gone negative for two consecutive years, just as revenue growth has slowed.
  • Gross margin, meanwhile, has slid for three consecutive years and is down more than 6 percentage points since 2008. Not good.
  • Receivables aren't much of a concern, but shares outstanding have ballooned as Brocade taken steps to improve its balance sheet. What assurances do investors have that this won't happen again?

Competitor and peer checkup

Competitor

Normalized Net Income Growth (3 yrs.)

Brocade

(13%)

Emulex (NYSE: ELX  )

(58.3%)

Extreme Networks (Nasdaq: EXTR  )

Not material

Mitel Networks (Nasdaq: MITL  )

Not available

Orckit Communications (Nasdaq: ORCT  )

Not material

QLogic (Nasdaq: QLGC  )

(8.8%)

Voltaire Limited (Nasdaq: VOLT  )

Not material

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data current as of Sept. 27.

Let's be honest: This table tells us one thing and one thing only. Neither Brocade nor its peers is doing well enough to stand out. And that, Fool, is exactly why the stock makes for an awful short candidate. Big companies like IBM and HP know they can bargain shop this section of the market.

Grade: Unsustainable
The numbers don't speak well for Brocade at these levels, and the possibility of a buyout makes a short sale too risky. My advice? Avoid the stock completely.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Do you like Brocade at these levels? Would you make it one of our 11 o'clock stocks? Let the debate begin in the comments box below, and when you're done, click here to get today's 11 o'clock portfolio pick.

You can also ask Tim to evaluate a favorite growth story by sending him an email, or replying to him on Twitter.

True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of IBM and Oracle at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. The Motley Fool owns shares of IBM and Oracle is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy thinks Monty Python is sustainably funny.


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