It's a script we're reading a lot this earnings season: companies underperforming and pointing to a weak IT spending environment. The trend started with IBM (NYSE:IBM) seeing revenue off 5% from last year. Today, Juniper Networks (NYSE:JNPR) steps up to the plate as the latest IT company to throw in the towel on the next few quarters. And thanks to Juniper, fellow IT giant Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) is feeling the pain. Let's take a look at what's driving an earnings season that's sorely lacking in good news.
Juniper: No hope on the horizon
Juniper reported last night, and its previous quarter was actually surprisingly good. Sales and earnings were both above expectations. Never mind that sales growth still clocked in at just 1%; we're dealing with some pretty low expectations right now.
While last quarter passed over the lowered bar set for the company, the midpoint of Juniper's guidance for the quarter ahead pointed to a slight dip in earnings and revenue. All right, that's a forgivable grace Wall Street could handle. As I mentioned earlier, every company in IT services is whiffing. Wall Street has some serious beer goggles on at this point in earnings season; it can handle some warts in a report.
However, in Juniper's earnings call, the company ruined any optimism around their report, noting that "at this point, there is no evidence of any indication of a significant improvement in the spending environment over the next few quarters. We expect customers to remain cautious with their investment decisions."
Of course, there's a big difference between a company noting weakness next quarter, but painting a rosy picture of the future. Juniper's further term pessimism leads to the worst fear of tech investors: we're headed for a cyclical retrenchment.
Worse yet, Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson noted some trends already observed in IBM's report. Namely that enterprise spending across North America looks soft. The company is heading into a seasonally strong quarter and it's guiding down!
The billion-dollar question
Of course, the billion dollar question is pretty simple: Are companies holding off on spending because of political and macroeconomic fears like the fiscal cliff -- a situation which could see resolution at the tail end of the year -- or is this a longer-term down-trend?
EMC's (NYSE:EMC) own earnings seemed to point toward the same trends as Juniper; the company gave weaker-than-expected guidance for next quarter on -- you guessed it! -- uncertainty in IT spending.
The bottom line is that not only Juniper, but other IT bellweathers like EMC and IBM, are all singing the same tune. That's going to put pressure on peers like Cisco before its own report, expected on Nov.13. Juniper's earnings didn't seem to indicate any kind of market share shift that could lead to Cisco surprising. Instead, this is a group of companies all getting pulled out by the same tide.
Whether or not relief from the tide comes early next year or we're looking at a longer term slowdown is the question that'll be weighing on your portfolio for the rest of the year.
Eric Bleeker owns shares of Cisco Systems and EMC. The Motley Fool owns shares of EMC and International Business Machines. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend International Business Machines. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.