This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolio Series.
Earlier this week, Fool.com hosted a live chat with the CFO of Un Portfolio holding Medtronic (NYSE: MDT ) , Gary Ellis. The chance to spitball with company management is an opportunity to get comfortable with the folks making decisions with your (shareholder) money. For a company of Medtronic's size and stature, such encounters don't occur often for wee individual investors like us.
So I took part in the event, asking several questions and hoping to glean information that on its own may not seem material, but combined with everything else I've learned about Medtronic would have an impact (good or bad) on my original investment thesis. Here are the three key takeaways that all Medtronic investors should care about.
Medtronic has historically invested almost 10% of sales in research and development – nearly $1.5 billion over the past year alone. That's nearly the sum total of all of its major competitors combined! The result: Roughly two-thirds of the company's growth has come from organic products and technologies developed internally. It's no surprise that Medtronic continues to be an employer of choice for researchers and scientists worldwide, a fact that has led to the company having the most robust product pipeline in its history. Being a large organization with financial strength to dedicate toward new product research is a clear advantage.
Big and broad
Ellis was quick to point out that Medtronic's size, along with its scale and regulatory experience, put it in a unique position to be able to work hand-in-hand with various global regulatory bodies to make sure the path for bringing new products to market is clearly defined. It's not a stretch to believe that Medtronic's clout means its voice is heard in contentious matters. As product approvals get tougher, efficacy demands continue to rise, and the need to be first to market grows, Medtronic's global regulatory relationships are a clear -- but underappreciated -- advantage over smaller and less global health-care companies like Zimmer Holdings (NYSE: ZMH ) .
Knowing their customer
Traditionally, Medtronic has sold its products directly to physicians all over the world. But things are changing as hospitals hope to lower their expenses by controlling purchasing decisions centrally, cutting the physicians out of the loop. Outside the United States, some governments are even stepping in and making the purchasing decisions. Medtronic attempted to get ahead of this shift by launching its "One Medtronic" strategy in 2008 to ensure divisions don't operate in silos and that sales teams were better versed in the company's entire suite of products and services. Having a broad portfolio and a well-trained, generalist sales staff is likely to be a preferred way to purchase for large decision makers (like hospitals and governments) and give it an advantage over the smaller product portfolio offered by competitor St. Jude Medical (NYSE: STJ ) .
The bottom line
Even as the health-care sector remains under a smock of uncertainty thanks to pending regulatory change, Medtronic is positioning itself to continue as a leading medical technology company. And while shares have risen 11% since being added to the Un Portfolio, Ellis believes "the entire sector is undervalued." For a company whose size-based competitive advantage seems to be strengthening, shares still look attractively priced at just 11 times next years' earnings estimates.
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