Cisco Has Valuation Upside From Present Levels

Dec.19.11 | About: Cisco Systems, (CSCO)

As part of our process, we perform a rigorous discounted cash-flow methodology that dives into the true intrinsic worth of companies. In Cisco's (NASDAQ:CSCO) case, we think the firm is fairly valued at $22 per share, which is slightly higher than where it is currently trading (our report on Cisco and hundreds of other companies can be found here).

For some background, we think a comprehensive analysis of a firm's discounted cash-flow valuation, relative valuation versus industry peers, as well as an assessment of technical and momentum indicators is the best way to identify the most attractive stocks at the best time to buy. This process culminates in what we call our Valuentum Buying Index (click here for more info on our methodology), which ranks stocks on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best.

If a company is undervalued both on a DCF and on a relative valuation basis and is showing improvement in technical and momentum indicators, it scores high on our scale. Cisco scores a respectable 7 on our scale (reflecting its fair value and bullish technicals).

Our Report on Cisco

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Investment Considerations

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Investment Highlights

Cisco's business quality (an evaluation of our ValueCreation™ and ValueRisk™ ratings) ranks among the best of the firms in our coverage universe. The firm has been generating economic value for shareholders with relatively stable operating results for the past few years, a combination we view very positively.

The firm is trading at attractive valuation mulitples relative to peers, but our DCF process indicates a less compelling opportunity. We'd wait for a clearer signal on valuation before jumping into the firm's shares.

Cisco has a good combination of strong free cash flow generation and manageable financial leverage. We expect the firm's free cash flow margin to average about 20% in coming years. Total debt-to-EBITDA was 1.5 last year, while debt-to-book capitalization stood at 26.3%.

Although we think there may be a better time to dabble in the firm's shares based on our DCF process, the firm's stock has outperformed the market benchmark during the past quarter, indicating increased investor interest in the company.

The firm experienced a revenue CAGR of about 3% during the past 3 years. We expect its revenue growth to be below that of its peer median during the next five years.

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Recent Quarterly Results

Cisco reported fiscal first-quarter that came in better than consensus expectations. We’re comfortable with our long-term projections for Cisco and are maintaining our above-market $22 fair value estimate.

Cisco's total revenue advanced 4.7% from the same period a year ago (slightly lower than the firm’s long-term expected pace), as both product and service sales expanded. Cisco’s widely-watched gross margin fell 160 basis points, to 61.2%, in the quarter, which was about in line with what we were expecting for the period. Though gross profit expanded and research and development investment slowed, the firm’s results were weighed down by over $200 million in restructuring and other charges during the period as Cisco tries to get its operations back on track.

As a result, operating income fell about 6% from last year’s quarter, while net income also tumbled by almost 8%. Diluted earnings per share came in at $0.33, down only a penny from last year, as share buybacks stemmed the decline. Non-GAAP net income, however, nudged up slightly from the same period a year ago and came in better than consensus forecasts. Cash flow from operations was excellent, increasing roughly $600 million from last year’s quarter. Total cash still stands at an astounding $44 billion.

Looking forward, Cisco indicated that it has completed the majority of its restructuring efforts, which, if true, should set the stage for the stock to continue to converge to our fair value estimate. For the current fiscal quarter, the firm expects revenue to advance as much as 8%, and earnings per share to reach $0.44. This outlook was above consensus forecasts.

Economic Profit Analysis

The best measure of a firm's ability to create value for shareholders is expressed by comparing its return on invested capital (ROIC) with its weighted average cost of capital (WACC). The gap or difference between ROIC and WACC is called the firm's economic profit spread. Cisco's 3-year historical return on invested capital (without goodwill) is 347.3%, which is above the estimate of its cost of capital of 10.8%. As such, we assign the firm a ValueCreation™ rating of EXCELLENT. In the chart below, we show the probable path of ROIC in the years ahead based on the estimated volatility of key drivers behind the measure. The solid grey line reflects the most likely outcome, in our opinion, and represents the scenario that results in our fair value estimate.

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Cash Flow Analysis

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Firms that generate a free cash flow margin (free cash flow divided by total revenue) above 5% are usually considered cash cows. Cisco's free cash flow margin has averaged about 22.8% during the past 3 years. As such, we think the firm's cash flow generation is relatively STRONG. The free cash flow measure shown above is derived by taking cash flow from operations less capital expenditures and differs from enterprise free cash flow (FCFF), which we use in deriving our fair value estimate for the company. At Cisco, cash flow from operations increased about 1% from levels registered two years ago, while capital expenditures expanded about 17% over the same time period.

Valuation Analysis

Our discounted cash flow model indicates that Cisco's shares are worth between $18.00 - $26.00 each. The margin of safety around our fair value estimate is driven by the firm's LOW ValueRisk™ rating, which is derived from the historical volatility of key valuation drivers. The estimated fair value of $22 per share represents a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 18.9 times last year's earnings and an implied EV/EBITDA multiple of about 8.5 times last year's EBITDA. Our model reflects a compound annual revenue growth rate of 2.7% during the next five years, a pace that is lower than the firm's 3-year historical compound annual growth rate of 3%. Our model reflects a 5-year projected average operating margin of 26.3%, which is above Cisco's trailing 3-year average. Beyond year 5, our valuation model assumes free cash flow will grow at an annual rate of 2.8% for the next 15 years and 3% in perpetuity. For Cisco, our model uses a 10.8% weighted average cost of capital to discount future free cash flows.

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Margin of Safety Analysis

Our discounted cash flow process values each firm on the basis of the present value of all future free cash flows. Although we estimate the firm's fair value at about $22 per share, every company has a range of probable fair values that's created by the uncertainty of key valuation drivers (like future revenue or earnings, for example). After all, if the future was known with certainty, we wouldn't see much volatility in the markets as stocks would trade precisely at their known fair values. Our ValueRisk™ rating sets the margin of safety or the fair value range we assign to each stock. In the graph below, we show this probable range of fair values for Cisco. We think the firm is attractive below $18 per share (the green line), but quite expensive above $26 per share (the red line). The prices that fall along the yellow line, which includes our fair value estimate, represent a reasonable valuation for the firm, in our opinion.

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Future Path of Fair Value

We estimate Cisco's fair value at this point in time to be about $22 per share. As time passes, however, companies generate cash flow and pay out cash to shareholders in the form of dividends. The chart below compares the firm's current share price with the path of Cisco's expected equity value per share over the next three years, assuming our long-term projections prove accurate. The range between the resulting downside fair value and upside fair value in Year 3 represents our best estimate of the value of the firm's shares three years hence. This range of potential outcomes is also subject to change over time, should our views on the firm's future cash flow potential change. The expected fair value of $30 per share in Year 3 represents our existing fair value per share of $22 increased at an annual rate of the firm's cost of equity less its dividend yield. The upside and downside ranges are derived in the same way, but from the upper and lower bounds of our fair value estimate range.

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Pro Forma Financial Statements

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Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.