Continuing this season's positive earnings trend, Juniper (NASDAQ:JNPR) once again showed a profit in the third quarter.

The maker of network gear reported GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) net income of $7.2 million or $0.02 per share, reversing a loss of $0.24 per share in last year's quarter. Non-GAAP earnings -- excluding one-time charges -- came in at $0.04 per share, beating the analyst estimate of $0.03 per share.

More importantly, investors looked for continued sales growth as an indicator of a possible turnaround in the nightmarish communications industry. Marking the fourth consecutive quarter of growth, net revenues increased 13% to $172.1 million.

And while the company was hesitant in forecasting growth after last quarter's report, this time there are no such qualms.

Yesterday, Juniper forecasted a fifth consecutive quarter of growth, raising its expected Q4 sales estimate to $180 million. Along with $0.05 in non-GAAP earnings, the new expectations trump the analyst estimate of $0.03 in non-GAAP profit on $174 million in sales.

Still, some investors are wary of the stock's triple-digit forward-looking P/E ratio.

Along with the broader rise in the stock market, Juniper shares have quadrupled over the past year in anticipation of a return to growth. The worry is that the stock has gotten ahead of itself, as no substantial recovery has yet been seen in its telecom customer base, such as Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and BellSouth (NYSE:BLS). That said, trying to calculate normalized earnings for Juniper beyond next year is probably a futile task.

But while some might call Juniper expensive relative to Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) -- its much bigger rival -- any such direct comparison on a forward P/E basis is probably a little shortsighted. That's because Juniper carries a much smaller earnings base, having just recently turned a profit. In any case, the stock isn't cheap by any measure.

While Juniper's modest results are a positive, I'd be cautious before jumping to conclusions about the telecom carriers. That said, four quarters of consecutive sales growth looks like a trend.

Shares of Juniper traded up 3% to $18.95 in after-hours trading.

Jeff Hwang can be reached at