Buyback and Dividend Hike Unable to Mask Disappointing Revenues at Juniper

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Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) tried a move from the “technology earnings season playbook” for what to do when your overall news is looking less than rosy and making it sound better than it really is. Shares of the networking equipment player were down by more than 8% in the after-hours session after earnings and over soft revenues. The company said that it was disappointed with its sales in the fourth quarter, but continued weakness has led the company to lower its revenue expectations for the first quarter of 2019 as well with a forecast for improvements later.

Actual adjusted earnings don’t seem that bad at $205.7 million, or $0.59 per share. That is versus $0.53 per share a year earlier. Again, it’s the revenues where the problem came in at -5% down to $1.18 billion. The consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters were $0.57 EPS on revenue of $1.23 billion.

While the company wants to improve its sales execution and wants to capitalize on attractive end market opportunities it expects to arise in 2019, Juniper Networks now expects its revenues to come in around $980 million in the first quarter of 2019. The company is then calling for sequential revenue growth after the first quarter and is looking for better trends during the second half of the year.

For some reference here after seeing announcements of this sort on many occasions, investors refer to that sort of guidance after disappointment as companies calling for a back-end loaded improvement to the outlook. The problem at this particular time in the economy is that China-US trade tensions and a slowing spending climate make it impossible for investors to be able to count on this recovery having with any hard certainty. And many other technology players are reporting less than stellar revenues and guidance.

Juniper issued another release to help mute some of the bad news, The company’s board has voted to increase its dividend by 6% (up to $19 cents per share). On top of that in the department of returning capital to shareholders, Juniper is additionally planning to spend $300 million on an accelerated stock buyback plan. After the accelerated plan is completed, Juniper plans to then be opportunistic on share repurchases, i.e. buying on sell-offs.

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Juniper has been somewhat aggressive with its capital return allocations. In fiscal year 2018, Juniper said that it had returned 140% of free cash flow to shareholders by repurchasing $750 million worth of shares and by paying out some $249 million in dividends. The company also confirmed that it plans to raise its dividend over time. Ken Miller, Juniper’s chief financial officer, said of the capital allocations:

We are taking actions to create shareholder value and today’s actions are consistent with our commitment to return 75% of our free cash flow to shareholders in 2019. The anticipated ASR program and dividend increase reflect our confidence in Juniper’s long-term strategy and market opportunities.

Before even considering the dividend hike announced this day, Juniper’s yield would show up as almost 2.8% on dividend screens after the after-hours drop.

Shares of Juniper Networks closed down 0.7% at $27.95 ahead of earnings, but the stock was the worst NYSE loser in the after-hours on Tuesday with a drop of 7% to $27.95. Juniper has a 52-week range of $23.61 to $30.80 and a consensus analyst target price from Thomson Reuters of $28.25.