4 Quotes From Stratasys' Conference Call That Investors Shouldn't Miss

If you're following Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS  ) , you've likely already read the company's first-quarter 2014 earnings release, as well as perhaps an article or two summarizing and analyzing the leading 3-D printing company's results, which were released last Friday. You can read my analysis here.

Briefly, Stratasys handily beat revenue estimates, met adjusted earnings expectations, and reiterated 2014 guidance. My purpose here isn't to rehash the company's results, but to supplement the information you've likely read with some additional color from Stratasys' conference call. There's a wealth of information an investor can glean from tuning into these calls that he or she might otherwise miss. There were too many valuable nuggets shared on Stratasys' call to cover them all, but here are four you should know about.

Fortus 900mc large build-box production printers -- not as cute as the MakerBot products often pictured, but high-end printers for advanced prototyping and production applications is where Stratasys is making the big money! Source: Stratasys

1. Organic growth guidance of "more than 25%" could be bumped up next quarter
This quote is from a response by CEO David Reis to an analyst's question:

So, when we put the guidance in the beginning of the year, we guided the market for more than 25% organic growth. If you look at 2013, H2 (second half) of 2013 was extremely strong compared to H1 due to the integration issue that we had. Nevertheless, we will update guidance. We'll discuss the (organic) growth of 2014 also once we close the Solid Concepts and Harvest (acquisitions).

As background, Stratasys reiterated its organic growth guidance for 2014, which is for "more than 25%." Organic growth excludes revenue from MakerBot, which is expected to grow faster than Stratasys' existing business.

The analyst asked Reis if he expected a dramatic slowdown in organic growth during the rest of the year. This question was sparked because Stratasys' organic growth in Q1 was a very strong 33%, which means Stratasys' organic growth could slow quite a bit during the remainder of the year, and the company would still be able to hit the 25%-plus target. My interpretation of Reis' response (together with other responses on this topic, in which he definitively stated that the company expects the second half of the year to be stronger than the first) is that not only does he not foresee a slowdown, but that the company is quite likely to raise its organic growth rate once it closes on the acquisitions noted above. These two deals are slated to close early in the third quarter, so they should be closed when Stratasys releases its Q2 results.

2. The increase in product average selling prices, or ASPs, is expected to continue
This quote is from a response by Reis to an analyst's question:

I think that in the organic business of Stratasys we do see ongoing improvement in both the gross margin and the operating margin. We see better ASP on the core business. We do not provide any stand-alone information due to competition.

The analyst asked about the "magnitude of the margin improvement quarter-on-quarter excluding MakerBot," and inquired if the quarter's improvement was all because of the mix of systems sold, and "how sustainable" the company believed this scenario to be.

Reis seems quite confident that the company's core business will experience continued expansions of gross and operating margins. It's a significant plus that these expansions are expected to continue to come from increases in average selling prices, rather than decreasing costs. That's because there's only so far a company can cut costs, and more importantly, the fact that Stratasys has been able to increase its ASPs indicates that customers are willing to pay up for its products. The company's strong pricing power, especially in light of increasing competition in the 3-D printing space, is a big positive.

3. The gross margin for 2014 should be at 2013's level or a bit higher
This quote is from a response by Reis to an analyst's question: "I think that we have a high level of confidence that the gross margin in 2014 will be at the level of 2013, maybe a little bit higher."

MakerBot's gross margin is less -- likely considerably less, but Stratasys doesn't provide that information -- than Stratasys' company-wide gross margin. So, Stratasys obviously expects a strong gross margin increase in its organic business to offset -- or slightly more than offset -- the negative effect that MakerBot has on the margin. Given that MakerBot's business is growing faster than Stratasys' organic business -- 79% vs. 33% in the first quarter -- this expectation is even more impressive. 

4. The new plant doubles the production capacity of PolyJet printers and materials
This quote is from a response by Reis to an analyst's question:

So, the new plant that we are building in Israel here is actually expanding the capacity of PolyJet printers and materials to fulfill our client need and customer needs for 2017. It doesn't have impact on revenue, but it's more on the operations side and we want to able to meet the capacity needs in the next two to three years. The facility is ready and will be fully operating at the beginning of next quarter. We actually doubled the capacity of production of PolyJet printers and we are doing the same now for the material.

I included this one because investors who didn't tune in to the call might not know that Stratasys was ramping up production capacity of its PolyJet printers and materials, as this fact wasn't mentioned in the earnings release. Additionally, those who did know this plant was in the works likely didn't know the current status.

It's worth noting that Reis mentioned the strength of demand for the company's PolyJet printers several times during the call. Not only are customers buying these printers for advanced prototyping applications, but they're also using them for manufacturing. Reis also stated that the company is experiencing "strong demand" for its Fortus printers, which are heavily used in manufacturing applications. 

Foolish final thoughts
My take of the call is that Reis and CFO Erez Simha foresee likely raising some form of guidance -- revenue, earnings, organic growth rate -- after Stratasys closes on the two service bureau acquisitions. Of course, I could be wrong about their intentions. Additionally, even if they currently foresee bumping up guidance, business conditions can change quickly, so investors should not count their (3-D printed or not) chickens before they hatch. 

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