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Why All 5 Pure-Play 3-D Printing Stocks Skyrocketed

Shares of Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS  ) zoomed up 7.2% on Thursday after BB&T analyst Holden Lewis released a note saying that there is strong demand for the company's MakerBot desktop 3-D printers. Lewis arrived at this conclusion after visiting a Boston store that sells MakerBot's products and talking to Stratasys' chief revenue officer. He wrote that while there is still no significant demand for 3-D printers from mainstream consumers, there is deep demand for desktop units from businesses, hobbyists, and schools.

Follow the leader
As is relatively typical with the 3-D printing stocks, positive news about one specific company often lights a fire under the entire group. That was the case here, with shares of fellow industry heavyweight 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD  ) , which also makes desktop printers, rising 8.4%. ExOne, Arcam, and voxeljet -- none of which offer desktop models -- also came along for the ride, rising 11.6%, 5.3%, and 9.2%, respectively.

While Lewis' note was surely the catalyst for yesterday's industry-wide rise, the magnitude of the collective rise can likely be partially attributed to the fact that the 3-D printing stocks have been significantly depressed of late. Any news perceived as positive is probably going to have a magnified effect on share prices given the groups' beat-down state, and also because the overhang of possibly more subpar first quarter earnings reports is now behind us. Short covering was also probably at play here, as the percentage of shares sold short is very high for most of this group.

Source: Stratasys.

Did Lewis' note have merit?
My view is that yes, Lewis' note had merit, but there was no news in his note that those closely following Stratasys didn't already know or believe. So, I don't think this jump is from the so-called "smart money" diving in.

In the first quarter of 2014, Stratasys' total revenue jumped 54%, while its MakerBot unit's sales soared 79% over the revenue it generated as an independent company in the first quarter of 2013. Anyone with a sense of numbers knows it's much easier to show larger growth on a percentage basis when we're dealing with a smaller base number. That's the case here, as MakerBot generated revenue of $20.6, which is less than 14% of Stratasys' first quarter revenue of $151.2 million. Nonetheless, MakerBot's growth is still impressive.

When it released its Q1 earnings, Stratasys reiterated that it expects 2014 organic sales, which exclude MakerBot sales, to grow at least 25%, and that it expected MakerBot to grow as a higher rate. Given Stratasys' organic growth was 33% in the quarter and MakerBot grew 79% -- which is significantly more than 25% -- there is good reason to believe that Stratasys' 2014 guidance is quite conservative. Further, given MakerBot's current growth rate and the fact that the desktop 3-D printing space is heating up, it seems safe to say, as Lewis reportedly did, that there is deep demand for MakerBot's products by businesses, hobbyists, and schools. 

As I just wrote in an article about speculation that Google is developing a consumer 3-D printer:

MakerBot's products aren't only used by consumers and "prosumers" (professional consumers who use them in their small businesses), but also by companies. Ford, for instance, made news in late 2012 when it announced that it planned to put a MakerBot Replicator on every engineer's desk.

This is largely in contrast to 3D Systems' desktop Cube printers, which don't have as broad an appeal. 

The bottom line
While Lewis' note was a positive for Stratasys, it shouldn't be viewed as much that wasn't already known or widely believed by those closely following Stratasys. Additionally, it seems a big stretch to view the information contained in his note as a positive for companies other than Stratasys. 

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