It takes much more than a little bump in the road to shake Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO). CEO John Chambers stares down a rare quarter of negative growth -- and tells us once again that there's nothing wrong with his business.

You could spin Cisco's third-quarter numbers either way, of course -- lies, damn lies, statistics, and financial reports, you know.


Bear Case

Bull Case

Sales dipped 17% year over year to $8.2 billion

That's down, dude!

Still better than Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) annual sales drop and many other industry titans, though.

GAAP EPS slipped 21% to $0.23 per share

Down, down, down.

Yeah, but peers like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) are doing worse, and Cisco is still solidly profitable

Cash flow from operations: down 33% to $2.0 billion


You're complaining about $2 billion in quarterly cash creation? Get real.

So yeah, the economy is hurting Cisco a bit at the moment. And while Intel and Microsoft are doing worse, other quasi-rivals like IBM (NYSE:IBM) are doing better. But none of that changes the fact that Cisco remains a nitro-powered cash machine with over $33 billion of cash equivalents and short-term investments on hand. The company did increase their debt a bit during the quarter, to a relatively paltry $10 billion, but Cisco's built itself a nice war chest.

That's a bigger cash hoard than Microsoft's $25 billion of cash equivalents, fatter than Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) $25 billion or Pfizer's (NYSE:PFE) $24 billion. Heck, Cisco is richer than ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), which is sitting on a paltry pile of only $25 billion. Take that, Big Oil!

So when Cisco CEO John Chambers says that he's positioned to benefit from this recession, I believe him. Cisco has the raw financial muscle to do whatever it darn well pleases in response to any downturn, without having to worry about financial stability or putting short-term goals ahead of long-term strategy.

"Cisco has always believed that disruption creates opportunity," Chambers said in last night's analyst call. And he sees huge disruptive forces in virtualization, in video conferencing, and in bringing network management and server systems closer together. "Even if the market slows we don't see this changing our long-term growth opportunities ... We plan to aggressively invest in new and adjacent markets for the longer term."

So Chambers stays the course. If I had all of his resources, I'd do the same. It's a great recipe for long-term growth that should reward patient investors richly indeed.

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