Ceragon Again, Off Again

There were no surprises in the earnings released by Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation Ceragon Networks (Nasdaq: CRNT  ) yesterday -- the wireless solution provider already deflated market expectations a few weeks back with an early preview of its earnings that included stable revenue, but less than expected on the bottom line.

Revenues grew nearly 31% over last year to $58.1 million for the quarter. But more than 43% of this came from OEM customers of Ceragon, which brought gross margins down to 31.5%, well below the 35.9% level maintained in the same quarter last year.

Ceragon's biggest OEM customer, the Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) and Siemens network partnership, had another very active quarter and accounted for more than 10% of revenues. But Ceragon expects the mix of OEM business to dip back down to normal levels in the coming quarters, bringing gross margins back up to the mid-30s.

Though CEO Ira Palti reiterated that he sees no customers curtailing spending or delaying orders yet, he is taking a cautious stance toward the future, dialing back growth expectations for 2009 to a wider range of 10% to 20%. Management also acknowledged that it will take longer to hit its goal of a 10% operating margin, now not likely to happen until the second half of 2009. One area of increased optimism, though, was in the self-perceived value of Ceragon's stock -- the company announced a $20 million share repurchase plan right along with earnings.

What is interesting, though, is that on the conference call, analysts peppered Ceragon management with what seemed like more questions about the state of the wireless broadband market in various regions than about Ceragon itself. They probed for hints about the progress in the disruptive WiMAX partnership cooked up between Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) , Clearwire, Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) , and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) , as well as for indications of whether operators in the U.S. like AT&T (NYSE: T  ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) and others around the world are delaying upgrades for capacity to their networks.

While analysts like to do this to scoop up details on other companies' operations, it's also evidence that Ceragon commands an important position in the global industry. While it's certainly going to take a while for this growth story to play out, the company holds a privileged position that should pay off down the line.

For more Foolish insight:

Ceragon Networks was selected by the Motley Fool Hidden Gems team for its exceptional management and great prospects. Check out the details, and see what other stocks Tom Gardner and Bill Mann think will beat the market with a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Dave Mock owns shares of Intel in a direct investment account. Sprint Nextel, Nokia, and Intel are Inside Value selections. Google is a Rule Breakers pick. The Fool's disclosure policy recommends you get your daily intake of essential vitamins and minerals.


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