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Juniper blows past earnings estimates

The router vendor reports better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings and a profit of $15 million, a sign that the networking gear market might be picking up.

Juniper Networks on Thursday zoomed past analysts' fourth-quarter revenue targets, a sign that the telephone companies and Internet service providers that buy the company's products are starting to spend.

The Internet router maker posted a profit of $15 million, or 4 cents per share, on revenue of $207 million in the fourth quarter of 2003, ended Dec. 31. That compares with earnings of $8.5 million, or 2 cents per share, on revenue of $155 million in the same period the previous year.

Consensus among Wall Street analysts called for earnings of 4 cents a share on revenue of $182 million, according to Reuters Research.

Excluding certain costs, Juniper earnings were $28 million, or 7 cents a share, on a basis not conforming to generally accepted accounting principles. That's up from $3 million, or a penny a share, a year earlier.

Shares of the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company surged in after-hours trading on Thursday. At the close of regular trading, shares were up 24 cents to $22.93. The earnings report was issued after the close of regular trading. In after-hours trading, shares were up about $3.17 to $25.10, a 13.82 percent increase from the previous day.

Partnerships continued to work well for Juniper during the quarter. Ericsson and Siemens each accounted for more than 10 percent of revenue. Combined, the companies contributed less than 30 percent, according to Marcel Gani, Juniper's chief financial officer. Revenue from an alliance with Lucent Technologies, which was announced in May, also grew during the quarter.

Juniper CEO Scott Kriens attributed the better-than-expected report to an unexpected and "unique" flush in spending from service providers in the fourth quarter. Despite the good news, he warned analysts and investors on the conference call not to jump to conclusions about the market in general.

"2003 was a great year," he said. "But we must proceed with caution. The results from this quarter show some optimism of customers, as we look into 2004. But the world has not changed."

Juniper expects the growth to continue and forecast revenue for the first quarter of 2004 to be between $210 million to $215 million, with earnings of 8 cents per share.

Results from Juniper, which typically is the first major telecommunications equipment supplier to report earnings every quarter, are often looked at closely by analysts for indications of how other networking gear makers might perform.

Kriens said he expects that Cisco Systems, Juniper's closest competitor, will likely have a good quarter as well. Cisco will probably benefit from the same trends that fueled Juniper's growth in the fourth quarter, he said.

"We won't be the only examples of the march of IP out there," he said.

Kriens explained that he predicts that service providers will continue to migrate their existing traffic away from older circuit-switched networks (used in the traditional telephone network) and onto networks based on IP (Internet protocol) and Multiprotocol Label Switching. He also said some of the growth in Juniper's business is also due to an increase in demand for capacity, as more consumers and businesses use the Internet and buy more IP-based services, like broadband, from carriers.

"We sleep well at night," he said. "As we've said before, Juniper is in the right place at the right time with the right products."