For long-term investors, Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) has been huge disappointment for years. After enjoying huge run-ups in the tech boom in the 1990s, Cisco was briefly the most valuable stock in the U.S. market. After the tech bust in the early 2000s, Cisco never regained all of its lost momentum, and share prices have been largely stagnant ever since.

2017 was a year of transition for Cisco, as it aimed to overcome falling revenue to make a more lasting impression on the rapidly evolving tech industry. The company's stock price rose sharply, and that has gotten some investors excited about the possibility that a return to more regular stock splits might be in Cisco's future. Shareholders shouldn't expect an imminent move, but if Cisco can get back on the technology bandwagon, then it might not be too long before the tech giant returns to its winning ways. Let's look more closely at Cisco to see how it's trying to get back on the upswing.

Cisco's history of stock splits

Here are the dates and split ratios for the stock splits that Cisco has done in the past:

Date of Split

Split Ratio

100 Shares in 1990 Would Now Be

March 1, 1991

2-for-1

200 shares

March 6, 1992

2-for-1

400 shares

March 5, 1993

2-for-1

800 shares

March 4, 1994

2-for-1

1,600 shares

Feb. 2, 1996

2-for-1

3,200 shares

Nov. 18, 1997

3-for-2

4,800 shares

Aug. 14, 1998

3-for-2

7,200 shares

May 24, 1999

2-for-1

14,400 shares

Feb. 22, 2000

2-for-1

28,800 shares

Data source: Cisco investor relations.

The 1990s were simply an amazing time for Cisco Systems. The company was able to do a stock split on an almost yearly basis, missing 1995 but generally remaining on a steep curve higher.

Moreover, the share prices at which Cisco made its stock splits were remarkably consistent. Within a year of going public at an IPO price of $18 per share, Cisco traded in the $50s, prompting its first stock split. The following year, the stock had climbed to nearly $80 per share before its next move, and Cisco shares routinely traded roughly in the $80 to $90 range at the time that the company made subsequent splits.

Later in the decade, Cisco decided to do 3-for-2 splits, letting the share price rise to slightly higher levels before pulling the trigger in 1998. In both 1999 and 2000, Cisco reached triple-digit levels before the company moved forward with 2-for-1 splits.

Cisco made plenty of tech investors a lot of money. For every IPO share, initial investors in Cisco ended up with 288 shares in early 2000 worth $72 a piece, turning $18 into more than $20,000.

Two people in suits in front of an audience with a screen saying Cisco Forum above them.

Image source: Cisco Systems.

Why Cisco stopped splitting

Subsequently, Cisco ran into the same tech bust that crushed the rest of the industry. Unlike its competitors, however, Cisco never really recovered from that episode. At its worst levels in 2002, Cisco had lost more than 85% of its value, falling to about the $10 per share level. Even as the rest of the industry recovered, strong competition and some execution miscues on Cisco's part held the stock back. Only in the past year has Cisco gotten back to its 2007 levels, and shares still trade at less than two-thirds of their all-time high.

Looking forward, there's newfound optimism about Cisco's prospects. The company has returned to revenue growth, and recent tax reform efforts will allow Cisco to repatriate $67 billion in cash for potential use in its U.S. operations. Cisco has paid a dividend in recent years and has been quick to boost its payout, and guidance for the coming year has many people believing that the networking giant is finally getting its momentum back.

Don't expect splits soon

Despite its recent success, Cisco stock is still in the $40s. That means investors are going to have to wait a while before the company gets back to a level at which it's likely to make a decision to split its stock. For those who haven't lost faith in the company, the fact that Cisco is starting to rediscover some of the growth prospects that propelled its stock higher in the 1990s will be rewarded enough if it translates to higher share prices in the near future.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Cisco Systems. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.