Invitrogen Integrates

After a rough 2006 in which it struggled to integrate its acquisitions, Invitrogen (Nasdaq: IVGN  ) used last year to show why it made all of its purchases.

In 2007, the company managed to increase operating margins by 1% year over year and spat out $245 million in free cash flow. That's a 53% year-over-year increase in free cash flow per share.

It's an interesting dynamic for the laboratory supply companies. While almost every large drug company -- from Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN  ) to Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) -- reported cost-cutting savings in 2007, laboratory supply companies like Invitrogen and Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE: TMO  ) saw decent growth in 2007. The cutbacks clearly aren't coming from basic research, which is a good sign for the future of both industries.

Invitrogen isn't done acquiring companies, either. In fact, it used some of the cash it earned in 2007 to acquire CellzDirect. The purchase helps Invitrogen continue its push into providing specialized cells for scientists, which I think is a good move for the company. Compared to companies like Becton Dickinson (NYSE: BDX  ) and Sigma-Aldrich (Nasdaq: SIAL  ) , Invitrogen is well poised to give scientists a complete package for their cell culture needs. And that's important, because there are few things that scientists dread more than having to spend time away from the laboratory bench ordering from three or four companies.

Separately from Tuesday's earnings announcement, Invitrogen also announced that it had settled multiple patent lawsuits with Agilent Technologies (NYSE: A  ) , which had been pending for about eight years. Payments and royalties are headed in both directions for different products that the two companies sell, but the companies didn't disclose financial details, so it's difficult to say who came out ahead.

With the patent lawsuits out of the way, Invitrogen is free to get back to increasing efficiencies. For 2008, the company is guiding for mid-single-digit revenue increases, with adjusted earnings per share expected to grow faster in the high-single to low-double digits. If it can continue to increase operating margins, investors should continue to be rewarded for patiently waiting for the integrations to occur.

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