Why Does Cisco Need More Share Buybacks Now? (CSCO)

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Usually a $5 Billion add-on to a share buyback plan is a good thing for shareholders, or at least they take it that way.  Last night Cisco Systems announced that its board of directors authorized an amount of up to an additional $5 Billion to be used for buying back stock.  The previous plan had reached up to $47 Billion in stock repurchases, and there is no fixed termination date for this plan.

The company believes that this is the best way to return cash to shareholders.  It also noted that in its entire buyback plan initiated since September 2001 (the worst month for the US since World War II) it has retired 2.2 Billion shares for some $41.7 Billion so far.  That represents an average price of $19.20 per share, leaving $5.3 Billion as the remaining authorized amount.

But the question is, does the company feel it needs to use this stock-stabilizing tool when shares are at 5-year highs?  It also makes one wonder if the company is having a hard time finding sizable acquisitions that it can add like its old Scientific-Atlanta deal.  Cisco may deserve to go higher yet, but it should on its own merits.  The company should either deploy this cash to make more strategic acquisitions of size.  Or if it really wants to return cash it could try the one-time special dividend as an actual return of capital while tax rates are so low on dividends. 
To top it off, $5 Billion in today’s value for Cisco isn’t what it was just last year.  With shares near $30.00 and with the stock averaging over 50 million shares per day, this would really generate about 3.3 days worth of trading volume.  If the networking and communications equipment giant wants to make these buybacks, hopefully it will only do so during periods where their stock is under pressure.  We aren’t criticizing the company itself over this too much because the management is solid, but buybacks are supposed to be done when shares are weaker than the company would expect instead of at multi-year highs. 

This doesn’t change any stance on John Chambers being one of the most entrenched CEO’s out there, but we’d still like to know if the company thinks this is the best use of current capital.   There aren’t too many VMware opportunities out there like it also announced, but there are certainly other add-on acquisition or competition-killing opportunities out there. 

Jon C. Ogg
July 27, 2007

Jon Ogg can be reached at jonogg@247wallst.com; he does not own securities in the companies he covers.