As the largest manufacturer of 3-D printers, with the broadest portfolio of printers in the industry, 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD ) is at the leading edge of a disruptive technological revolution. However, despite years of earnings growth, 3D Systems' share price has risen even faster, and today the company sports a sky-high valuation. To help investors decide whether the future of additive manufacturing is bright enough to justify the lofty price tag on the company's shares, The Motley Fool has compiled a premium research report on whether 3D Systems is a buy right now. Today, you can get a sneak peek at our report, and read about some of the unusual risks that 3D Systems face, which it uniquely shares with peers like Stratasys.
3D Systems faces many of the same risks as any small, highly priced, high-growth company. Its industry is young, and a competitor with drastically superior technology could render 3D Systems obsolete, or at least force down its margins. Imitators violating the company's patents could lock 3D Systems out of markets with weak intellectual property protections like China. A bad or overpriced acquisition could eat into shareholder returns, or draw regulatory ire.
Even should things go well at the company, investors expect a lot. Revenue doubled between 2009 and 2011, while net income went from $1 million to $35 million. Accordingly, 3D Systems is priced at over 60 times current earnings; a dizzying valuation for any company.
As fits a company with its disruptive potential, however, 3D Systems also faces some risks that are, frankly, pretty weird, and difficult to predict or quantify. For instance, firearm enthusiasts have been keen recently to print a working gun out of commercially available, unregulated print materials. If a murder is committed with a gun manufactured by a 3D Systems printer, is the company liable for having sold the weapon without a background check? What sort of regulation could 3D Systems or its customers expect if 3-D printers can be used to produce weapons?
More broadly, how will regulators and producers react to the ability for consumers or companies to use 3-D printers to "pirate" the design of physical objects like clothing or electronics the same way that music and movies can be pirated today? If it becomes possible to simply download the schematics for an iPhone illegally online and print them at home, what is 3D Systems' obligation to protect Apple's intellectual property? In the name of copyright protections, could traditional manufacturers lobby to restrict the sale of 3-D printers to licensed manufacturers? These are questions that 3D Systems will face as the industry matures in scale and applicability, and investors must be prepared if these questions are not settled in 3D Systems' favor.
We hope you enjoyed this sample of our new premium research report on 3D Systems, which also includes a breakdown of the company's business structure, the most important areas investors need to watch, an analysis of the opportunities facing 3D Systems, and three key reasons to buy or sell the stock. To gain access to the complete report and a full year of analyst updates, click here and keep reading now.