MarketWatch First Take: Cisco says pandemic worse than dot-com crash and recession, but earnings are faring just fine

Cisco Systems Inc. described the current economic conditions caused by the global pandemic as worse than the dot-com crash of 2000 and the Great Recession of 2008, but so far is it faring better than expected.

“Despite the challenging environment we are all operating in, we delivered a solid quarter and financial performance in the midst of the greatest financial crisis of our lifetime,” Cisco CSCO, -2.93% Chief Executive Chuck Robbins told analysts on the company’s fiscal third-quarter conference call.

The networking giant reported earnings and revenue better than Wall Street’s revised expectations for the quarter Wednesday. Cisco’s revenue of $12 billion was down 8% from the year-ago period, but slightly better than consensus estimates of $11.9 billion, and adjusted profits of 79 cents a share were even better than expectations of 71 cents a share.

And while most companies during this pandemic have pulled guidance or declined to give guidance for the rest of the year, Cisco also surprised investors by giving a forecast for the next quarter, saying that it expects revenue to decline between a range of 8.5% and 11.5% year-over-year, and adjusted earnings in a range of 72 to 74 cents a share. Its shares tacked on nearly 3% in after-hours trading.

“I still think there is a lot of volatility out there,” Chief Financial Officer Kelly Kramer told MarketWatch in a brief interview, when asked how the company was able to give guidance while others are deferring. “I think it’s a balanced guide.”

When asked if the fiscal fourth quarter could be the company’s bottom for the year, Kramer said it was too hard to call this the bottom because COVID-19 still lurks. “It depends on if there is a secondary outbreak, God only knows what happens. I think it’s way too early to call.”

As expected, the company has been seeing huge demand for its WebEx videoconferencing software, with so many people working from home — including Cisco, where 95% of its workforce are not going into the office. How many of the free trials will convert to subscriptions is a question, but Kramer said she has baked in potential additional subscribers and revenue from WebEx into Q4.

Robbins also said that Cisco has helped thousands of customers get hundreds of thousands of employees around the world up and running with virtual private network (VPN) connections. He also said that some CEOs are looking at their company’s IT infrastructure and trying to use this time to fix and modernize their infrastructure.

“This crisis has highlighted the importance of having highly resilient globally scalable infrastructure technologies to keep the world running and this is what we build,” he said. Later in the call he said some CEOs are saying: “‘I will never be this unprepared for something like this again,’ and if there’s a wave two coming in the fall, many of them may say we need to work on a lot of this right now. I don’t know that yet, but we think there could be.”

The company also said it was still early days for its $2.5 billion financing program to help customers to say how it will affect the next quarter. Kramer said since the program only just launched at the end of April, there would be a small impact on the fourth quarter, adding that the interest is coming from smaller commercial customers, health-care systems and a lot of small colleges.

Robbins told investors that he believes demand for Cisco’s products “will be strong when we emerge from this situation.” Investors, too, appear to be impressed by its current resiliency and appear to be hoping that this quarter is the bottom for COVID-19 as well as Cisco’s revenue declines.

‘All the days are blurring together’: How to battle burnout and find a healthy work-life balance during the pandemic

Vanessa Bohns is one of the fortunate Americans who can work from home, but the blurring of lines between work and home life sometimes takes its toll.

“I, for one, feel burned out by constant Zoom ZM, +3.78% meetings all day, so having Saturday and Sunday without them feels like a real break to me,” Bohns said. She also needs to set boundaries with co-workers: “When colleagues have suggested meeting over the weekend, I always ask to find another time,” she said. “It may feel like all the days are blurring together, but that doesn’t mean that we should operate as if every day is basically a work day now.”

‘I, for one, feel burned out by constant Zoom meetings all day, so having Saturday and Sunday without them feels like a real break to me.’

— Vanessa Bohns

Bohns, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University’s ILR School, said it helps to forgo checking email for set amounts of time. These times will vary depending on the person, she added.

“For example, I often have to respond to emails at odd hours because I have small kids at home,” she told MarketWatch in an email. “But setting a period of time where you’re not allowed to work or check your work email, that is carved out for yourself, is key for recharging.”

Bohns says she avoids scheduling evening and weekend meetings, and recommended preserving traditional weekends to the extent possible. She is not alone: American workers were already vulnerable to burnout before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Confined to home with additional domestic responsibilities and increasingly fluid work-life boundaries, they face even greater stress and exhaustion.

With stay-at-home restrictions in many areas to slow the spread of coronavirus, “all of these things are intensified now,” Bohns said.

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Workers nationwide are feeling the pressure to always be available. Forty-one percent of employees say they feel burned out from their work, 45% say they feel emotionally drained from their work, and 44% say they feel “used up at the end of their work day,” according to a survey of 1,099 U.S. workers conducted in mid-April by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Meanwhile, 23% report often feeling “down, depressed or hopeless.”

Women in particular are “maxing out and burning out” during this public-health crisis, the result of their taking on more housework and care-giving responsibilities than men, Facebook FB, -2.38% chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and her LeanIn.org co-founder, Rachel Thomas, wrote in a recent Fortune op-ed. Women are also more likely than men to report experiencing sleep issues and physical symptoms of severe anxiety, according to recent LeanIn.org and SurveyMonkey research they cited.

“Before the coronavirus crisis hit in the U.S., many women already worked a ‘double shift,’ doing their jobs, then returning to a home where they were responsible for the majority of child care and domestic work,” Sandberg and Thomas wrote. “Now, homeschooling kids and caring for sick or elderly relatives during the pandemic is creating a ‘double-double shift.’ It’s pushing women to the breaking point.”

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, says ‘homeschooling kids and caring for sick or elderly relatives during the pandemic is creating a “double-double shift.”’

AFP/Getty Images
What is burnout?

Burnout, an occupational phenomenon defined as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” is marked by exhaustion or energy depletion; heightened mental distance or negative or cynical feelings related to a job, and “reduced professional efficacy,” according to the World Health Organization.

“Burnout is essentially feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by work, often to the point where you stop caring and start to disengage,” Bohns said. “It can be caused by, among other things, feeling ‘on’ all the time, the pressure to be the ideal worker, and the difficulty so many of us have maintaining work-life balance, even in the best of times.”

Now, she added, “people are finding it even harder to ‘log off’ from remote work.” “People are worried about layoffs and furloughs, and so feel even more pressure to demonstrate their value to the company, or prove they are an ideal worker,” Bohns said. “And as we shift to doing all of our living and working at home — many of us with partners and children — work-life boundaries are blurred more than ever.”

The current situation also leaves us with fewer outlets for recovery and rejuvenation, such as blowing off steam at the gym or meeting up with friends, said Nancy Rothbard, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Workers now lack certain natural boundaries they once had between work and life, and even those accustomed to remote work can’t currently seek a change of scenery at a cafe or coworking space, she said.

“We have a lot of additional restrictions on us,” she said. “It’s a very different type of challenge than a normal work-from-home challenge.”

If you’re struggling to set boundaries, preserve your energy and mental health, and make time to recharge during this time, here are some expert-recommended strategies that might work for you:

Designate times, places and devices to not associate with work

For Rothbard, using different devices during different blocks of time helps to differentiate between “home time” and “work time,” she said. She generally tries to use her computer for work during the day, and use her iPad AAPL, -1.20% if she needs to look something up during the evening. Some people looking to create work-life boundaries also find it helpful to “wall themselves off” and set up a separate, dedicated workspace, Rothbard added.

Take care of yourself

“Self-care right now is essential,” said Lori Whatley, a clinical psychologist who specializes in the impacts of digital device usage. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, exercising and engaging with other people regularly, even if it’s only by text, she said.

Practicing mindfulness, she added, “is one of the very best tools we can have in our tool box to ease anxiety over the things we cannot accept.” Whatley recommends the meditation and relaxation app Calm. For more meditation apps, check out MarketWatch’s 2018 roundup.

Stop working when your work day ends

Make a plan and stick to it, Rothbard said: If you plan to work until 6 p.m., stop working at 6 p.m.. “If you’re really, really on a roll, fine — you can deviate from that,” she said. “But if you’re in a situation where you feel like you haven’t gotten enough done but you’re really dragging, you want to stop. You want to take a break.”

If you’re keeping normal work hours right now, follow the typical guidance on unplugging during the evening, Bohns said, such as setting your phone to not ping you for work emails and sleeping with your phone and laptop in a different room. When you get a chance to go for a walk or take a long bath, she added, leave your phone elsewhere.

“It’s a little harder for people whose work hours have had to shift, for example, because of child care. Sometimes the most productive time for those individuals is in the evening when the kids are asleep,” she said. “Nonetheless, carving out some of your evening, or some time during nap time, or a child’s allocated screen time, for yourself is key.”

if you’re a remote worker who puts on work clothes to feel more productive, changing out of those clothes at the end of the day can help you ‘turn off.’

If your job involves meeting deadlines, be proactive about scheduling in breaks. “In order to take enough breaks to keep your energy up, you have to plan that out,” Rothbard said. “Otherwise, you’re going to run out of time and you’re going to be up against the wall. Constantly chasing the deadline is another way to burn out.”

And if you’re a remote worker who puts on work clothes to feel more productive, changing out of those clothes at the end of the day can help you “turn off,” Bohns said. “It’s a physical signal that something has changed, you’re no longer in work mode, and that mode actually feels physically different,” she said.

Make each day a little different from the last

Humans enjoy structure, but we can also modify parts of our daily routine “so it’s not just trudging through one identical day after another,” Whatley said. Even small changes can make a significant difference, she said: Try swapping your coffee for green tea one day, she said, or instead of eating your usual 4 p.m. apple, try an orange.

‘Vary the walk you do, vary the TV show that you watch, vary the book you’re reading.’

Plan out variation in your social interactions too, Rothbard suggested: Maybe you can connect with an old college friend tomorrow, a work friend the next day, and a family member the day after that. “Vary the walk you do, vary the TV show that you watch, vary the book you’re reading,” she added. “Those are really good ways to build in variety and combat the monotony of the everyday experience in this more limited work-from-home world.”

For Bohns, having things to look forward to in the week ahead goes hand in hand with supporting local restaurants still offering takeout. “We’ve made plans to, say, have lattes and bagels delivered for breakfast on Wednesday, or order from our favorite pizza place on Friday,” she said. “Planning ahead like that allows for the anticipation, and it’s also a nice incentive to keep track of the days, as you count down to that latte from your favorite coffee shop.”

Don’t overwork yourself (and don’t be afraid ask for help)

More than one in five respondents to the SHRM survey said that the pandemic had threatened some aspects of their jobs, including personal opportunities, pay and benefits, job security and safe working conditions, “to a great or very great extent.”

‘Try to avoid preoccupation with how other people live their lives — especially as viewed through the incomplete lens of social media.’

But “these are the exact circumstances that can lead someone to feel pressure to work all the time to demonstrate their value, or to refrain from asking for help when they need it because they are worried about admitting any weakness,” Bohns said.

“Preventing burnout by ensuring you give yourself time to disconnect is consistent with maintaining productivity,” she said. “Burnout is the enemy of productivity, so working all the time isn’t good for either.” If you require extra flexibility to avoid burnout, she added, “you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it for fear of being judged harshly.”

Avoid comparing yourself to coworkers

Your coworkers might seem to have their act together, and even find time to bake bread and learn a new language on the weekends, said Cathleen Swody, an industrial/organizational psychologist and partner at the consulting firm Thrive Leadership. But try to avoid preoccupation with how other people live their lives — especially as viewed through the incomplete lens of social media — and focus on what’s doable for you and within your control, she said.

Find ways to make progress

During work time, focus on your major priorities rather than on busy work — tackling “the really big stuff that’s going to give us a sense of achievement,” Swody said. Off the clock, take up a small hobby or project (or even a puzzle) that helps you feel like you’re working toward an accomplishment or new skill. “Progress is so good for our brains,” she said. “It tells us we’re moving forward.”

The Moneyist: ‘I owe child support from my first marriage and did not receive a stimulus check. Does Trump not realize I have another family to take care of?’

Dear Moneyist,

I owe back child support for a son from my first marriage, and so I have not received a stimulus check. Does President Trump not realize I now have another family to take care of? They need me now. If I can’t feed my family, I will do what I can to make that happen. If that means taking food from stores without paying, I will. This system is not equitable.

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The CARES Act has allocated money to get people through this period of economic uncertainty, and withholding checks now does not take into account the unprecedented circumstances in which millions of hard-working families are living. Millions of people likely owe back taxes and are overdue on their student loans, yet they are forgiven and receive $1,200 stimulus checks.

I am not the only person in this position. What do you believe is fair?

J.M. in Texas

Dear J.M.,

There are a few non sequiturs in your letter. Some people have complained of being punished for doing the right thing. You are, by your own account, being penalized for doing the wrong thing. More than 30 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in recent weeks due to the economic effects of the nationwide lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic. I agree: It’s not fair on children who have to live with the stress of seeing their parents come under financial strain.

I understand that you need to support your family. Your family should not have to suffer during this difficult time. Let me rephrase that. Your families should not have to suffer. You have two families to support, after all, not one. You don’t get to pick and choose what children deserve your help at a time when millions of families are struggling, at least not in the eyes of the law. Thus, the federal government has intervened to make sure you fulfill your legal and your moral obligations.

Also see: I received my ex-husband’s $1,200 stimulus check because we filed joint taxes in 2018. Should I give him the money or return it to the IRS?

If you had supported your first child, the system would support you now. Why did you not pay your child support? Did you lose your job and do everything in your power to get another one to support both of your families? Did your business go under because of the pandemic? Of course, there are often extenuating circumstances where parents are simply unable to pay and, perhaps, don’t have an emergency fund for all eventualities. But if your instinct now is to steal, it gives me pause.

Of course, there are often extenuating circumstances. But you have not given me a valid reason, or any reason for that matter, why you have not paid child support.

Most of these EICs are being split 50/50 between two households. That seems fair. “If you are married filing jointly, and you filed an injured spouse claim with your 2019 tax return (or 2018 tax return if you haven’t filed your 2019 tax return), half of the total payment will be sent to each spouse and your spouse’s payment will be offset only for past-due child support,” according to the Internal Revenue Service. “There is no need to file another injured spouse claim for the payment.”

Those parents listed on the Treasury Offset list for unpaid child support are liable, like you, to have their economic impact payment reduced or withheld. “Federal law requires child-support agencies to have procedures to collect past due child support from federal tax refunds,” according to Ken Paxton, the Attorney General of Texas. “In the federal stimulus bill, the CARES Act, Congress did not exempt the stimulus rebate payments from federal offsets for child-support arrears.”

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In some cases the government has mistakenly withheld stimulus money from injured parties in child-support cases. The IRS said it’s working with the Bureau of Fiscal Service, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Child Support Enforcement to resolve this as soon as possible. Those parents who are owed child support and have not received their money may, indeed, feel rightly justified in holding their former spouses and the government responsible.

You have not given me any valid reason, or any reason for that matter, why you have not paid child support. Instead, you lay the blame at the feet of the government. While no government is perfect, directing your anger at everyone else seems too simple a conclusion. In almost every situation, we all have to take some share — however large or small — of the responsibility. There’s an old saying: “When you take ‘bla, bla, bla’ out of ‘blame,’ you are left with ‘me.’

The time has come to take accountability for your own actions, my friend.

Read readers’ responses to this letter: ‘Not everyone that owes back child support is a deadbeat.’ Is it fair for President Trump to garnish stimulus checks of fathers who are behind on payments?

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here

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Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook FB, -2.38% group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Wall Street Journal: Abbott’s coronavirus test misses many positive cases, researchers say

Researchers reported a device manufactured by Abbott Laboratories widely used to swiftly detect coronavirus, including among senior White House officials, missed nearly half of the positive cases detected by another common test.

The researchers at NYU Langone Health in New York City compared the Abbott ID Now to another device, finding that it missed 48% of positive cases the other machine detected. The NYU study hasn’t been peer-reviewed and was posted online Tuesday ahead of formal publication.

Medical experts say what are known as false negatives could lead people infected with the virus to unknowingly spread the virus. At the White House, where President Donald Trump, Vice President Pence and other senior officials are regularly tested using the device, that risk was highlighted when two aides tested positive last week.

The Abbott ABT, -1.74% device can produce test results in less than 15 minutes. That fast turnaround attracted attention from Trump and other officials as testing backlogs swelled in March.

Abbott said “it is unclear if the samples were tested correctly in this study.” The company said it has distributed about 1.8 million ID Now tests, and the reported rate of false negatives to Abbott is 0.02%.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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Visa sees ‘massive’ digital acceleration with millions trying e-commerce for the first time

The COVID-19 outbreak is bringing more people into the digital fray and providing a further tailwind to e-commerce growth.

In Latin America alone, 13 million Visa Inc. V, -1.16% cardholders made e-commerce transactions for the first time ever during the March quarter, the company’s Chief Product Officer Jack Forestell told MarketWatch. That represented about two in 10 active Visa cardholders in the region.

“We’re seeing a massive acceleration toward e-commerce adoption,” Forestell said, as the pandemic serves as a catalyst for trends that were already budding in the payments industry.

The momentum isn’t limited to Latin America. Visa saw an 18% rise in U.S. digital commerce spending during the month of April, excluding the travel category, as face-to-face transactions fell 45%.

Read: Visa to delay U.S. interchange and fee changes, gas station requirement until April 2021

While e-commerce adoption had been on the rise prior to the pandemic, Forestell sees opportunities to improve the digital shopping experience now that more people are relying on the internet to get what they need during the crisis.

One priority is a reduction in chargebacks, which occur when card payments get reversed. “As we’ve seen large-scale cancellations in travel and entertainment, there’s a lot of potential for confusion between buyer and seller into how those resolve,” Forestell explained. He said that the company has created a special dispute-monitoring program amid the coronavirus outbreak that works with sellers and financial institutions to understand the terms of transactions at a time when Visa has seen a significant bump in disputes.

Visa is also looking to simplify the guest-checkout process, which Forestell said requires that users enter information into 23 fields during the average transaction. The company has converted 10,000 merchants that were using its Visa Checkout button over to a new click-to-pay button that’s being used universally by the credit-card industry to speed up online checkout and validate buyer identities.

Ultimately, Forestell is optimistic that there will still be a shift toward digital payments even after more businesses are able to reopen their physical locations. Already, he said, face-to-face commerce has been getting an electronic spin through curbside pickup options in which “transactions happen in the physical world but the payments themselves are happening in a remote way.”

See also: Visa sees ‘significant deterioration’ in spending but some areas are showing improvement

Beyond that, Visa expects further growth of “touchless commerce” as more people consider tap-to-pay transactions. Usage of tap payments in the U.S. rose 150% in March relative to a year earlier, Forestell said. The country is seeing even bigger contactless growth rates in the U.S. than in many other regions because the U.S. is farther behind in terms of adoption. In the rest of the world, Visa sees 60% of face-to-face transactions occur via tap payments.

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Visa shares have fallen 15% over the past three months, though they’re up 4.8% over a one-month span. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -2.17%, of which Visa is a component, has lost 21% over the past three months and 2.9% in the past 30 days.