Is Medtronic Sweeping the Deck?

Let's get something straight right off the bat -- Medtronic (NYSE: MDT  ) isn't going anywhere. Nothing's changing at a deep fundamental level in health care that would impede the growth of this giant med-tech corporation. That said, it may be time to readjust its growth expectations.

The company had already warned us all about this quarter, so the results posted yesterday evening weren't surprising. Revenue was up a bit less than 8%, and while reported net income was up strongly, simple operating income was down about 1%.

Although the company does have definite growth opportunities in markets like spinal care, drug-eluting stents, and diabetes care, cardiac rhythm management is still the lead dog with Medtronic, accounting for close to half of sales. To that end, a great deal of investor attention will remain focused both on the underlying market conditions and the competitive behavior of Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX  ) and St. Jude (NYSE: STJ  ) .

I'm slightly bearish when it comes to ICDs. I don't doubt that millions of Boomers may get these devices, nor that ongoing clinical studies will continue to push their benefits. I simply believe that the penetration and exploitation of the ICD market has been pretty thorough already, and I think it will be increasingly difficult (and expensive) to push it much further.

Since management lowered guidance with this release, it's fair to think that there's a better chance of outperformance in the next few quarters, assuming the ICD market doesn't get worse. Additionally, management is now referring to 15% long-term growth as a goal, rather than an expectation.

Perhaps management is just sweeping the deck and trying to reestablish expectations at a more reasonable level, but investors may react poorly as stalwart growers transition to a less dynamic phase of life. Medtronic almost certainly still has growth ahead of it, and may be a decent idea for long-term investors. Nonetheless, I'd caution Fools not to automatically assume that past growth rates and valuation multiples can be easily reproduced in the future.

For more medical missives:

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Fool contributorStephen Simpsonhas no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).


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