Buy, Sell, or Hold: Infinera Corp. (INFN)

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When considering any stock for your portfolio, don’t be swayed by just the positives. Examine its pros and cons and decide whether its possible upside outweighs its risks. Let’s take a look at Infinera Corp. (NASDAQ:INFN) today, and see why you might want to buy, sell, or hold it.

Founded in 2000, based in California, and sporting a market capitalization of about $775 million, Infinera is an optical networking specialist, offering hardware, software, and services to telecom companies, cable companies, Internet content providers, and more. It used to be known as Zepton Networks.

Infinera Corp. (NASDAQ:INFN)Infinera’s stock is down about 11% over the past year and has averaged an annual loss of about 11% over the past five years. That leaves some wondering if they should pass it by or if it’s now a bargain.

Buy
The business Infinera is in is a big draw. As my colleague Dan Caplinger has explained, “In simple terms, the company puts pieces of a network on its chips and allows cost-effective transformations from optical signals to electrical impulses.” What’s so great about that? Well, Internet traffic is growing and the service providers building bigger networks want cost-effective components. The downside here, though, is that many of these companies, whacked by the recent recession, have been holding back on their spending. That won’t last forever, though. In its fourth-quarter conference call, management noted that, “Over the past four quarters, bandwidth consumption has increased, and customers across market segments are looking at increasing their network investments.”

These stats should give you a sense of the company’s potential: Per a Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) report, global mobile data traffic should grow 13-fold between 2012 and 2017, averaging about 66% growth annually, with video making up a growing majority of that.

Actual results from the company recently have been somewhat encouraging. Its fourth-quarter earnings per share (EPS) was a loss of $0.05, instead of the $0.06 loss expected by Wall Street, and revenue rose 14.4% over year-ago levels. Fellow telecom equipment specialist Juniper Networks, Inc. (NYSE:JNPR) , which has also been struggling due to big telecom companies holding tight to their purse strings, recently projected stronger spending soon.

Infinera bulls include some Wall Street analysts, such as at MKM Partners, which recently upgraded the stock, expecting a sharp turn toward profitability in 2013 — in the form of smaller losses.

The company’s management has impressed my colleagues, too, responding effectively and nimbly to changes in demand from the marketplace, developing a 100-gigabit offering sooner than originally planned — its DTN-X technology. The technology has been gaining acceptance in the market, with management recently noting, ”Its traction has been phenomenal and we have entered the 100-gig market with force. In just over 2 full quarters of production, we have secured 22 DTN-X customer commitments, including 7 customers new to Infinera, and we have shipped over 2,000 100-gig ports.” Those customers include some big “tier 1″ ones, such as CenturyLink, Inc. (NYSE:CTL) and Cable & Wireless, and they at least double the company’s global addressable markets. CenturyLink has been growing steadily, and offers a hefty dividend yield of 7%. It has solid free cash flow growth and has been making promising acquisitions, but its share count has been growing significantly, too, and its earnings are negative.

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