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Cisco reports strongest quarter in 4 years

Cisco Systems reports that fiscal fourth-quarter profits rose 69 percent, exceeding analyst expectations as sales of networking equipment soared.

Cisco Systems today reported that fourth-quarter profits rose 69 percent, the networking giant's strongest quarter in four years, company executives said.

Excluding one-time costs, fourth-quarter earnings were $1.2 billion, or 16 cents per share, compared with earnings of $710 million, or 10 cents per share, during the same period last year. Revenue jumped 61 percent, from $3.6 billion last year to $5.7 billion this year.

Analysts expected Cisco to earn 15 cents a share, according to a survey by First Call/Thomson Financial.

Separately, the company announced that executive vice president Don Listwin will leave the company for an as-yet-unnamed start-up.

Cisco chief executive John Chambers attributed the company's continued growth to the runaway expansion of the Internet.

"Given our size, we are very pleased with the results," Chambers said. "The momentum and balance across our geographic regions, lines of businesses and products could not have been much better."

At the close of regular trading, Cisco shares were down 75 cents for the day to $65.50. The fiscal fourth-quarter earnings report was issued after the close of regular trading. In after-hours trading, Cisco shares shot up about $2.

Including one-time costs, such as acquisition-related spending, fourth-quarter income was $796 million, or 11 cents a share, compared with $605 million, or 8 cents a share, during the same period a year ago.

Chambers once again warned that component shortages could hamper performance in coming quarters, during a conference call with financial analysts. To alleviate the shortage of components used to build networking equipment, Cisco has increased manufacturing capacity by 50 percent, and plans to increase it another 50 percent in the near future, he said.

Cisco executives said the company saw more than 20 percent sequential growth in its service provider business and 15 percent revenue growth in its corporate networking business. Sales of optical networking equipment grew about 100 percent over last year.

For Cisco's fiscal year, including one-time costs, the company earned $2.7 billion, or 36 cents a share, compared with $2 billion, or 29 cents a share, for the previous year. Revenue for the fiscal year increased 55 percent to $18.9 billion, compared with $12.2 billion in the previous year.

During the fourth quarter, Cisco completed the acquisitions of eight companies: Atlantech Technologies, JetCell, PentaCom, Qeyton Systems, Seagull Semiconductor, ArrowPoint Communications, InfoGear Technology and SightPath.

After briefly eclipsing Microsoft, Intel and General Electric in market value this spring, Cisco's stock has been stuck around $60 for much of the summer.

Merrill Lynch has a 12-month price target of $84 on the stock, noting that Cisco represents "a bellwether technology company."

"We believe Cisco helps to define growth and valuation parameters for the sector," Merrill Lynch analyst Michael Ching said in a recent report.

Salomon Smith Barney initiated coverage on Cisco this week with a "buy" rating, calling the company's stock a "core investment."

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco makes much of the equipment that shuttles data around the Internet and corporate networks. The company has recently embarked on a strategy to claim a share of the market for telecommunications equipment and optical-based systems, long a bastion for competitors Lucent Technologies and Nortel Networks.

Cisco continues to battle a wide array of competitors in a variety of markets, including smaller companies such as Extreme Networks, Juniper Networks and Sycamore Networks, and larger ones such as Lucent, Nortel and Alcatel.

Cisco and Lucent are embroiled in a lawsuit concerning 10 former Lucent employees who have since joined Cisco's optical networking efforts.

Lucent, which has struggled to meet expectations in recent quarters, announced a corporate restructuring today. Nortel, however, has continued to roll along, surpassing Wall Street expectations on the strength of runaway demand for its optical networking equipment.