Why Intuitive Surgical Inc. Shares Surged

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

What: Shares of Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ: ISRG  ) , the developer behind the soft tissue robotic surgical system known as da Vinci, advanced as much as 13% after reporting its preliminary fourth quarter and full year revenue and procedure outlook.

So what: According to Intuitive Surgical's press release, Intuitive anticipates reporting fourth-quarter revenue of $576 million, an approximately 5% year-over-year decline from the $609 million reported a year ago. Preliminary instruments and accessories revenue is forecast to have risen 6% to approximately $268 million, a sign of da Vinci surgical procedure growth. For the full-year procedure volume increased by 16% to 523,000 surgical procedures from 450,000 in 2012. Hampering fourth-quarter revenue are sales of its da Vinci surgical systems, which are expected to decline by 23% to $205 million as the company sold only 138 machines compared to 175 in this period last year. Service revenue helped modestly with a 14% increase to $103 million from $91 million, year over year. All told, Intuitive shares surged with Wall Street anticipating just $548.6 million in fourth-quarter revenue.

Now what: There's obviously a lot going on with Intuitive Surgical that's a bit difficult to read into with just these top-line numbers. For one, Intuitive has an ongoing investigation by the Food and Drug Administration into the safety of its da Vinci surgical systems after an increase in the number of adverse events (AE). I've long stated that the proportion of AE's has stayed constant while the number of procedures performed has increased, so I personally expect Intuitive to come out in the clear, eventually. In the meantime, however, this gray cloud has hampered sales. In addition, the implementation of Obamacare has health-care companies tightening their wallets into some of the uncertainty surrounding this transformational health law clears. With Intuitive's machines costing upward of $1.5 million, that's an expense most hospitals simply won't pay at the moment.

In spite of this recent weakness, however, I do see Intuitive Surgical as a uniquely positioned company moving forward. It has incredible pricing power and there really isn't a viable soft tissue surgical company even within striking distance. Once it can put these near-term uncertainties in the rearview mirror, I suspect shares can head higher once again.

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