2 Key Takeaways From iRobot's Earnings Call Today

iRobot gave investors much needed insight today after reporting earnings earlier in the week. Here's what investors need to know.

Apr 23, 2014 at 6:03PM

iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT) gave investors an inside look at its business today on a conference call with analysts, after the robotics company reported fiscal 2014 first-quarter earnings earlier in the week that trounced Wall Street's expectations for the quarter. Here are two takeaways from the call that give investors insight into where the stock is headed in the remainder of 2014.

When topping expectations isn't enough
Shares of iRobot fell more than 4% to $37.86 on Tuesday, despite the company reporting better than expected earnings. But that move pales in comparison to what the stock is doing today after iRobot's conference call this morning -- shares are down nearly 8% this afternoon. iRobot failed to give investors concrete details about its emerging technologies business, which could be part of the weakness seen in the stock today.

Specifically, analysts were looking for more color on how its newly released navigation robots are selling. On the call, iRobot said only that it had received the first orders for its Ava 500 Video Collaboration bots and that it sees more opportunities for the product going forward.

As for its RP-VITA telemedicine device, iRobot chief executive Colin Angle said, "The feedback we are getting from doctors using our robot is that the user interface enabled by our navigation technology is proving to be highly valued in more sophisticated areas of telemedicine."

As an iRobot shareholder, I would have liked to get specific sales figures for these automatons, or at least some idea of what demand looks like.

Screen Shot

Source: iRobot Corporation

iRobot's entrance into the health care and enterprise markets could open up a promising new growth channel for the company. But one thing Angle did say on the call was that management wouldn't be licensing this technology any time soon. iRobot might be able to better profit from its robotic navigation tech if it were to license it out to partner companies. But for now he said, "[O]ur plans are to hold that technology closely and incorporate it into our products."

Advertising, R&D, new products
Another takeaway from the earnings call is that iRobot beefed up its advertising and research spending. Moreover, the company plans to continue doing so in the quarters to come. Operating costs consisted of 38% of revenue in the quarter, up from 35% during the same period a year ago. While this negatively affected iRobot's operating margins, it's encouraging to see the company investing in its future by more heavily promoting its products. Looking ahead, management said it would have higher marketing costs in the second quarter as the company launches the first phase of its 2014 ad campaign.

Increased ad spending should help iRobot better promote its new home robots. During the first quarter, iRobot released its higher margin Roomba 880 with sales of the product on iRobot's website exceeding those of all other products over the same period. The company also unveiled its new floor mopping Scooba 450 robot, which it expects will help fuel sales in its home robot division throughout 2014.

Importantly, both of these new products are currently in limited distribution. But Angle said on the call that these models will be rolled out on a global scale by iRobot's third quarter, which means investors should see stronger sales of these products by the second half of the year.

What it all means
Together, these things tell us that iRobot is playing the long game. Not only is it rolling out new products in its core home robot business, but it's also making inroads into new product categories with robots for the health care and enterprise markets. While near-term profits may be pinched because of increased ad spending and R&D costs, these things should pay off for iRobot down the road.

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Tamara Rutter owns shares of iRobot. The Motley Fool recommends iRobot. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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