How Stratasys, Ltd. May Be Poised for Big Gains Over the Long Haul

Ever wanted to get in on an industry trend before it catapulted from niche to mainstream? Imagine investing in a company poised to benefit from a nascent technology early on and then riding the stock for years as the world adopted its products in droves. Opportunities like this are rare. And when they come around, it's not always easy to spot them. While I may not have a crystal ball in my investing toolkit, 3-D printing company Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS  ) does seem to have the characteristics to qualify it as one of these rare opportunities.

The factory of the future. The Fortus 400mc 3D Prototyping Machine is one of many of Stratasys' 3-D printers that are revolutionizing manufacturing. It builds in nine different materials. Image source: Stratasys.

Consider these three qualities Stratasys has in its favor:

1. It's a pure play
Don't count on riding a broad industry trend from its early days to its mature days if the investment you select isn't an industry pure play. To lock in as much upside potential as possible, you are going to want the company to be heavily invested in the new technology -- not diversified in several industries.

Stratasys is a prime example. The company's revenue is sourced entirely from the 3-D printing related sales. As an added bonus, its approach to capturing the 3-D printing market offers somewhat of a hedged bet on three important markets: consumer (often referred to as "desktop"), professional, and manufacturing.

2. It's a leader
Investors looking for a good long-term investment in a nascent technology don't want to take wild risks by investing in an unproven company. For that reason, it's best to look for a leader. Does Stratasys pass this test? Absolutely. In both professional and desktop 3-D printing, Stratasys is arguably setting the standard.

The majority of Stratasys' sales target professionals who need printers and related services and materials for prototyping and direct digital manufacturing. And now after its 2012 merger with Objet, Stratasys is the largest manufacturer of 3-D printing equipment for the professional market.

MakerBot Replicator. Image source: MakerBot.

Further, even though its consumer-end MakerBot brand accounts for just about 14% of revenue, the brand is the global leader in 3-D printing desktop sales. And its ecosystem of product offerings in the category is robust; the company has key and proprietary control over the whole spectrum of sales related to the MakerBot brand: printers, services, and materials.

3. Growth is already here
A new technology in a fresh industry isn't promising at all if its potential for growth doesn't look optimistic. Fortunately, Stratasys appears to be positioned squarely in the middle of a powerful growth trajectory. Total non-GAAP revenue in its most recent quarter grew by 54% from the year-ago quarter. Its smaller MakerBot brand grew sales by a whopping 79%.

Looking at the bigger picture, a new report from Canalys projects that the overall 3-D printing market will grow from a $2.5 billion market in the U.S. in 2013 to a $16.2 billion U.S. market by 2018 -- that's an annual compound growth rate of 45.7%.

Do these three characteristics alone make the stock a buy? No. But they do qualify Stratysis as a potential game-changer in a disruptive industry, a title few companies can even audition for. At the very least, Stratasys is a stock worth taking a closer look to see whether it could be one of these rare opportunities.

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