There's no denying Cisco's (NASDAQ:CSCO) recently announced fiscal 2015 Q2 was an unmitigated success. Not only did it grow revenue and earnings year over year, Cisco handily beat consensus analyst estimates on both fronts. Add in the decision to increase its already-impressive quarterly dividend from $0.19 to $021 a share, and it's no wonder investors have driven Cisco's stock price up over 9% to a new 52-week high.
Of course, with that success comes questions of what Cisco will do for an encore as we head further into 2015. Cisco isn't facing insurmountable challenges by any means as it continues its transformation to cloud and mobile data center solutions, along with what CEO John Chambers refers to as the Internet of Everything (IoE). But there are a few critical areas investors would be wise to monitor going forward.
Growing the topline
On a GAAP basis (including one-time items), Cisco grew earnings per share to $2.4 billion in fiscal 2015's Q2, a nearly 68% improvement from a year ago. That's an impressive result, and it certainly warranted the positive response Cisco received following the news. However, much of the earnings-per-share improvement was the result of successfully streamlining operations, to the extent that Cisco's cost of sales actually declined nearly $400 million, despite boosting revenues compared to 2014's Q2.
There's certainly nothing wrong with running a more efficient organization, and Chambers and team are doing just that. That said, Cisco's bottom-line results to some extent masked what was -- on a relative basis -- only so-so top-line growth. Sure, Cisco's $11.9 billion in revenue last quarter beat forecasts and the prior year's Q2, but it was just 7% higher than 2014's $11.2 billion. Cisco is in the midst of a transition to new technologies, so fairly anemic revenue growth can be excused -- for now.
Bring it on
One of the more intriguing growth opportunities for Cisco is its continued success in securing deals to build smart cities. Last quarter's announcement that it had inked an agreement with Santiago, Chile, comes on the heels of similar arrangements with Berlin, Hamburg, and a host of other cities around the globe. What really makes Cisco's success in offering smart city solutions worth watching is that it's expected to become a $1.5 trillion market over the next 10 years.
Of course, the potential that smart cities offers means longtime Cisco rivals like IBM (NYSE:IBM) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) won't be far behind -- and they're not. Both hardware behemoths are actively marketing their own respective suite of smart city solutions, and with so much at stake, you can bet there will be others. Though smart city revenues aren't broken out separately, Cisco appears to have a leg up in the smart city race, but will its early start keep it on top?
With success comes responsibility
Both fiscal 2015's first and second quarters have raised the bar for Cisco. Though long-term investors tend to fall back on fundamentals -- as they should -- there's no denying that momentum plays a significant role in near-term stock price. So, going forward, anything less than Cisco hitting a home run each quarter will be unacceptable.
Raised expectations are certainly a nice problem to have, because it generally comes on the heels of success, and that's the case with Cisco. Continued growth is expected in Cisco's fiscal 2015 Q3 based on consensus analyst estimates. The $12.1 billion in revenues and $0.53 a share in GAAP earnings analysts have forecasted would handily beat the year-ago third-quarter results of $11.5 billion in sales and $0.42 per-share earnings.
Can Cisco boost revenues at, or near, double-digit rates, retain its leadership position in the fast-growing smart city market amid increased competition, and continue to meet investor's growing expectations? All signs point to yes, but if Cisco should stumble in any of these key areas, that could change in a heartbeat.
Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Cisco Systems. The Motley Fool owns shares of 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.