Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) will soon be reporting its fourth-quarter and full-year 2018 results. The exact date isn't set as of this writing, but the 3D printing company is widely expected to report in late February or very early March. 

Stratasys stock is essentially flat -- down 0.3%, to be exact -- over the one-year period through Jan. 25. This is a better performance than it might seem since the S&P 500, including dividends, is down 4.3% over this period. Shares of archrival 3D Systems have gained 7.9% over the last year. 

Close-up of a 3D printer printing an unidentifiable red plastic object.

Image source: Getty Images.

Key quarterly numbers

Here are Stratasys' year-ago results and Wall Street's estimates to use as benchmarks.

Metric Q4 2017 Result Wall Street's Q4 2018 Consensus Wall Street's Projected Change (YOY)

Revenue

$179.3 million

$185 million

3.2%

Adjusted earnings per share (EPS)

$0.16

$0.21

31.3%

Data sources: Stratasys and Yahoo! Finance. YOY = year over year.

While long-term investors shouldn't place too much importance on the Street's near-term estimates, they're helpful to know because they often help make sense out of market reactions.

For perspective, last quarter, Stratasys' revenue increased 3.9% year over year (or 6% after adjusting for the sale of its divested entities in the quarter), GAAP loss per share narrowed significantly, and earnings per share (EPS) adjusted for one-time items jumped 38% to $0.11. In the second quarter, revenue was approximately flat with the year-ago period, GAAP loss per share narrowed 27%, and adjusted EPS declined 12% to $0.15. In the first quarter, revenue declined 5.8% year over year, GAAP loss per share narrowed slightly, and adjusted EPS came in flat at $0.05. 

Summing things up, Stratasys continues to be challenged in its efforts to grow revenue, which in the first nine months of 2018 has edged down 0.6% year over year. On the positive side, however, it's been making progress on the earnings front thanks largely to its efforts to control costs. In the first nine months of 2018, GAAP EPS has narrowed and adjusted EPS has increased nearly 7% to $0.31.

CEO search

Investors can probably expect management to provide an update on the progress of the CEO search during the earnings call. Stratasys has been without a permanent CEO since June 1, when Ilan Levin resigned. Levin had been at the helm for a month shy of two years, after succeeding former CEO David Reis.

Elan Jaglom, the company's chairman of the board, has been serving as interim CEO. He's being assisted by Reis, vice chairman of the board and executive director.

3D printer revenue

Along with gross margin, 3D printer sales are arguably the most important metric beyond the headline total revenue and earnings numbers that investors should be watching. Sales of 3D printers are central to Stratasys' business model, as they drive sales of the print materials, which sport high profit margins.

In the third quarter, 3D printer revenue was flat with the year-ago period, but was up 3.3% after adjusting for divested entities. While not ideal, this result was encouraging. This metric had been declining for several years, and fell 8.2% and 21% year over year in the second and third quarters of this year, respectively.

Gross margin

Investors should keep their eyes on GAAP and adjusted gross margins, as gross margins reflect pricing power and, hence, competitive pressures. In the third quarter, GAAP gross margin was 48.7%, up slightly from 48.3% in the year-ago period, and adjusted gross margin was 52.1%, down slightly from 52.5% in the third quarter of 2017.

Gross margin will fluctuate quarter to quarter based on such factors as product mix and timing of new product launches. So it's best to consider how the company's full-year 2018 gross margin stacks up against its full-year 2017 one.

Check out the latest Stratasys earnings call transcript.