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Lukewarm response to Juniper moves

While Juniper Networks' second-quarter performance offered little hope that the company could grow, some viewed its performance as mildly positive.

Juniper Networks continues to muddle through the telecom morass.

Juniper beat estimates by earning less than $500,000, reported a 42 percent decline in year-over-year sales and offered little hope that it could grow its business when it reported 2002 second-quarter earnings Thursday. Yet in some corners of the industry, Juniper's performance was viewed as mildly positive.

The company also announced more job cuts, a product cancellation and a plan to defer the accounting of sales to one of its largest customers, WorldCom, since that company is now teetering on the brink of insolvency.

Such is the state of the telecommunications industry, in which even the largest companies are struggling to stabilize their businesses after the investment explosion of the 1990s turned into a glut of network operators and network capacity as the new millennium dawned.

Underlying Juniper's results is a changed landscape in the telecommunications industry that could prove daunting for a company of Juniper's size as it battles for business against primary foe Cisco Systems. No longer can Juniper bet on a technological advantage or a nimble approach to customers for business. Juniper will have to fight tooth and nail for every sale of its routing systems.

"The situation is a difficult one indeed. Predictions in this market presume there's some precedent," said Scott Kriens, Juniper's chief executive, in an interview following the release of Juniper's earnings.

Juniper shares rose more than 6 percent, or 48 cents, to close at $7.70 on Friday.

Analysts are skeptical that the once high-flying company can regain its footing and re-emerge as a growth company anytime soon.

"The company is neither a growth story nor an earnings story," SoundView Technology Group analyst Ryan Molloy said in a Friday report. SoundView has an "underperform" rating on Juniper's stock.

Juniper shares have lost 74 percent of their value over the past year.

Several hot-button issues continue to swirl around Juniper as a result of the current climate in telecom and its own recent moves, including the recently completed acquisition of Unisphere Networks, a maker of routers for the "edge" of a network. Here are a few of them:

•Revenue from WorldCom, which at one time accounted for more than 10 percent of Juniper's quarterly sales, has been deferred by Juniper because of the telecommunications firm's ongoing financial woes. Juniper recorded $2 million in services revenue from WorldCom it had already collected, but deferred another $5 million in equipment sales it has already shipped to the struggling network operator.

•The company said it would cut another 10 percent of its work force largely as the result of overlap following the recent close of its $585 million cash and stock acquisition of Unisphere. Furthermore, Juniper executives said the company would discontinue a recently introduced Unisphere product, called the MRX, currently in trials with customers. Juniper will instead focus on its own M and T series routers, which are used in a similar fashion by customers.

•Another struggling network operator, Qwest Communications International, did account for more than 10 percent of sales for the quarter, but Juniper executives were quick to clarify that these sales were part of a distribution arrangement with Qwest in which the telecommunications company sells Juniper equipment to the customers it serves. It does not reflect, according to Juniper executives, sales of equipment into Qwest's network. Ericsson, another company that sells Juniper gear through a distribution arrangement, also accounted for more than 10 percent of quarterly revenue.

As a result of the ongoing woes in the industry, Juniper executives would only predict that the coming quarter would be flat and that the same condition is at least likely in future quarters. While not predicting a bottom to Juniper's faltering business, Kriens words may provide some solace to an industry looking for cover.

Juniper executives said it would produce $155 million to $160 million in sales in the next quarter, including the addition for the first time of revenue from Unisphere. "We see those as repeatable results (beyond the next quarter)," Kriens said.

Nevertheless, Needham and Co. downgraded Juniper's stock Friday from "buy" to "hold."

Others, though not optimistic, continue to believe that Juniper's management through the decline in its business will continue to serve it well. The next signal of any possible climate change in the industry will likely come in August, when rival Cisco posts numbers for its current quarter.

"Despite the growth concerns, the company is still delivering cash flow from operations--lending credibility to both management and the survivability of the business in the temporary absence of growth," Robertson Stephens analyst Paul Johnson said in a report. Robertson Stephens has a "buy" rating on the stock.