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关闭Flip业务只是个开始

关闭Flip业务只是个开始

Dan Mitchell 2011年04月25日
思科承认其消费者业务并未给公司带来收益,目前公司正在对该业务进行重组。但是,它还需要关闭更多业务,才能让华尔街满意。

    成为家喻户晓的品牌的确是一种诱惑。因此,思科(Cisco)首席执行官约翰•钱伯斯率领公司进军消费者市场的策略无可厚非。但从根本上来说,这种诱惑只是一种表象。思科的核心产品是路由器与网络设备。或许这些业务并不光鲜亮丽,但它们却是思科发展的根本所在。而在消费者领域,思科的表现并不理想。

    在这种状况下,思科于上周宣布,公司将停止生产颇受欢迎的Flip摄像机,并提升其对核心业务的投入。但思科的此次转变将面临很多挑战:网络设备市场正在快速变化,产品价格不断下降(进而导致利润减少),并且,越来越多的新公司正在进入这一市场,并与思科展开竞争。

    尽管如此,凭借在网络设备市场三分之二的份额,思科依然是业界领导者。而且,随着经济的逐步复苏,大客户也终将重启搁置已久的采购计划(资金短缺的政府项目除外)。

    那么,市场的不确定性有多大呢?2010年,思科网络设备部门的收入增长了约10%,但整个行业的利润却激增了42%。与此同时,该部门的市值下跌了23%,这主要归因于思科股票的疲软表现。思科股票在2010年持续下跌,而2011年的下跌幅度更大。今年年初,思科股票的价格约为27美元,而上周五收盘价几乎跌破17美元。

    投资者一直在呼吁,思科公司应该关闭消费者业务,尤其是Flip业务。尽管Flip颇受欢迎,但其利润微薄,且前景不够乐观,因为智能手机的内置视频功能在不断提高。比如苹果(Apple)iPhone 4具有同样出色的视频功能,那为什么还要购买Flip呢?2009年,思科以5.9亿美元收购了Flip摄像机的制造商——纯数字科技公司(Pure Digital)。尽管此次收购看起来物有所值,但许多投资者认为,这对思科没有太大的实际效果。

    (既然Flip摄像机仍然有人买,思科为何不把Flip部门卖掉呢?许多人对此存有疑问。《福布斯》(Forbes)的一位博主认为,关闭该部门是一个 “鲁莽的、戏剧性的结果”,采取这一手段,只是为了平息舆论对公司消费者业务策略的批评。另外一种可能是,思科管理层认为,他们无法从公开市场中收回收购成本,而关闭Flip业务则是成本最低的一种选择;或者,思科只是希望产品的技术继续掌握在自己手中。毕竟,它依然在做视频业务。但思科公司对此未发表任何评论。)

    思科的核心业务拥有更大的利润空间,但目前正被压缩。瞻博网络(Juniper Networks)与Aruba网络(Aruba Networks)等竞争对手不断压低价格,使思科面临很大压力。截止到目前,尽管思科尚能承受降价带来的压力,但钱伯斯和他的公司能够坚持多久,前景并不明朗。同时,其他大大小小的竞争对手正在进入该市场。惠普(Hewlett-Packard)便是其中之一。它一方面与思科在服务器业务领域展开激烈竞争,同时还在不断加大对网络设备的投入。

    乍看来,思科在交换业务市场上占有80%的市场份额,毛利率在75% - 80%之间,这一表现似乎令人满意。在截止去年7月份的财年中,思科的销售额增长了12%。

    但这只是虚假的表象。今年,思科在该市场的销售额增长率下降至7%,而其竞争对手却在降低价格,仅将利润率保持在40%或50%,甚至更低。虽然这并没有使交换机市场陷入恶性竞争,但趋势已经非常明显。因此,尽管截至目前,思科在该市场占有三分之二的份额,但钱伯斯却表示,交换机业务是一个“艰难的市场”。

    花旗集团(Citigroup)分析师约翰•斯拉克在上周的一份报告中表示:“思科需要在保住市场份额与保持利润率之间做出选择。它不可能两者兼得。”这虽然不是一种零和游戏,但思科无法做到永远阻止竞争对手并保住现有市场份额,这一点毋庸置疑。

    关闭Flip业务可以维持全公司的利润率,但思科还需要采取更多措施。去年Flip业务的收入仅为3.25亿美元,不足公司销售额的1%。收购Flip业务的目的,是为思科开拓家用视频业务,而后者侵蚀了公司的利润。

    钱伯斯表示,公司将以“外科手术式的精准操作”来执行未来的战略,但他并未透露详细的行动计划。在关闭Flip业务后,思科还将在消费者市场表现不佳的ūmi视频会议业务与Eos媒体服务器产品撤出了消费者市场,并将这两项业务纳入其企业业务组合。

    思科公司近期聘请加里•摩尔为首席运营官,他将负责思科新的核心业务。公司于上周确定了五个“优先发展业务”:路由与交换、云计算与数据中心、“架构”(网络设计)以及视频业务。

    公司的Linksys家庭网络产品可以勉强合并到“路由与交换”业务,其Scientific Atlanta机顶盒业务被合并到视频业务中。但是,在其他消费者业务与视频业务被整合到思科专注于企业市场的业务线中后,这两项业务似乎都可以出售了,而分析家似乎普遍认为,接下来,思科应该拆分这两种业务。

    钱伯斯在上周表示:“我们将把主要精力集中在协助企业与服务提供商客户,优化和扩展其为消费者提供的产品与服务,并保证开展这些业务的网络性能。”这些含糊不清的言论几乎没有任何意义——他并没有明确表示要保留或者关闭思科剩余的消费者业务。总之,思科极有可能在近期“甩掉”Linksys与Scientific Atlanta业务中的一项或者两项。

    翻译:刘进龙

    There's a certain allure to being a household name, so you almost can't blame Cisco CEO John Chambers for trying to push his company into consumer markets. But that allure is ultimately superficial. Cisco's core products are routers and networking equipment. Those businesses might be dull, but that's where Cisco has thrived. On the consumer front, it has flopped.

    Last week, Cisco announced that it would stop making the popular Flip camcorder. The company announced that it would focus more on its core businesses. The challenge there is that the networking-gear business is rapidly changing, with prices (and hence, margins) falling and new competitors entering the market.

    Still, Cisco is the leader, owning as it does about two-thirds of the market for networking equipment. And with the economy recovering, big customers are finally making needed purchases they had been putting off for as long as they could. (One exception: cash-strapped governments.)

    How uncertain is the market? Consider that 2010 saw revenues in Cisco's sector grow by about 10%, while industry profits soared by 42%. At the same time, the sector's market value fell by 23%, mainly thanks to Cisco's limp stock. Cisco fell steadily throughout 2010, and has spent 2011 dropping even more sharply. It started the year at about $27. It closed Friday at just above $17.

    Investors had been clamoring for the company to exit the consumer business. The Flip, in particular, suffered from thin margins and -- though it was popular -- a highly uncertain future as the built-in video functionality of smartphones kept improving. Why buy a Flip when the Apple iPhone 4's video feature is just about as good? Cisco bought Flip-maker Pure Digital for $590 million in 2009 -- a relatively small purchase for the highly acquisitive company but, to many investors, a hugely symbolic one.

    (Many people have asked, given that the product is still selling, why Cisco didn't sell off the Flip. One Forbes blogger decided shutting down the division was "a flashy and dramatic denouement" to appease critics of the company's consumer strategy. It seems more likely that Cisco execs decided they couldn't have recouped its purchase price on the open market, and simply flipping the switch on Flip was the least costly option. Or maybe Cisco just wants to keep the product's technology for itself – it is, after all, still in the video business. The company did not respond to a request for comment.)

    Cisco's core business enjoys much better profit margins, but those margins could be narrowing. Competitors like Juniper Networks And Aruba Networks are putting pressure on prices. Cisco has thus far been able to resist lowering prices, but it's not clear how long Chambers and co. can hold out. Meanwhile, other competitors, large and small, are entering the market. Even as Cisco takes on Hewlett-Packard in the server business, HP is investing big in networking equipment.

    A snapshot view of the switching business makes things look great for Cisco. It has an 80% market share. Gross margins are in the 75-80% range. Sales grew by 12% in the fiscal year that ended last July.

    But that's deceptive. In the current year, sales growth has fallen to about 7%, and competitors are cutting prices, accepting margins of just 40 or 50%, or even less. That hardly makes switches a commodity business, but the trend is clear. That's why Chambers last week called the switch business a "tough market" even though his company, for now, controls two-thirds of it.

    In a note last week, Citigroup analyst John Slack wrote that, "Cisco needs to choose between protecting share or preserving margins. It simply can't do both." The reality might be less zero-sum than that, but it's true that Cisco won't be able to fend off competitors forever and keep its market share.

    Killing off the Flip will help shore up company-wide margins, but Cisco will likely have to do more -- the Flip represented just $325 million in revenue last year, or less than 1% of the company's sales. The purchase was part of a larger strategy to get Cisco into the home video business, which as a whole has eaten into margins.

    Chambers said future moves will be carried out with "surgical precision," but he didn't offer much in the way of specific plans. As it shut down Flip, the company also absorbed its ūmi videoconferencing business and its Eos media-server products into its business offerings, taking them off the consumer market where they had been languishing.

    Newly hired Chief Operating Officer Gary Moore will head up Cisco's new focus. The company last week identified five "priorities": routing and switching; cloud computing and data centers; "architectures" (network design); and video.

    The company's Linksys home-networking products might, at a stretch, fit into "routing and switching," and its Scientific Atlanta set-top box business fits into video. But with the folding of other consumer and video businesses into Cisco's business-focused lines, both seem ripe for a sale, and analysts generally seem to agree those businesses are the ones that should be next to go from Cisco's portfolio.

    Chambers said last week that, "our consumer efforts will focus on how we help our enterprise and service provider customers optimize and expand their offerings for consumers, and help ensure the network's ability to deliver on those offerings." That's just squishy enough to be almost meaningless -- it could provide a basis for either keeping or getting rid of Cisco's remaining consumer businesses. On balance, it seems likely that it will will cast off one or both of Linksys and Scientific Atlanta in the near future.

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