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Could Illumina Be a Millionaire-Maker Stock?

By Adria Cimino – May 31, 2020 at 6:44AM

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Illumina’s revenue woes may not be over as the coronavirus disruption continues, but the future still looks bright for this genome sequencing leader.

Like peers in the life sciences industry, Illumina (ILMN -0.65%) hasn't been immune to the coronavirus outbreak. Shares of the genome sequencing giant fell as much as 37% earlier this year as the outbreak led to a general market crash.

The crisis also hurt revenue: The maker of genome sequencing systems saw a slowdown in business as some customers temporarily closed labs, and as a result, delayed testing using Illumina's tools. Illumina isn't offering an outlook on the months ahead because the duration of the coronavirus crisis isn't clear.

A strand of DNA is shown against a blue background.

Image source: Getty Images.

Still, the stock has rebounded from lows and now is up 12% so far this year. And some elements from the most recent earnings report, as well as Illumina's past performance, are reasons to be optimistic about the future.

Will that be enough to make this a millionaire-maker stock? Let's take a closer look -- starting with how the coronavirus outbreak shaped the first quarter.

Business in China

Troubles began with business in China -- where Illumina makes 10% of its annual revenue -- as the coronavirus emerged. Many patients were unable to make it to oncology or prenatal testing appointments, and that weighed on sequencing system and consumables revenue. As the crisis abated, volumes increased in China, but the slowdown then moved through other regions such as Europe and the U.S.

Illumina reported a 25% year-over-year drop in first-quarter total sequencing systems revenue to $79 million due to coronavirus disruptions. And Illumina isn't out of the woods yet. The company said the second quarter will be "extremely challenging," with revenue declines in every region.

Illumina sells its systems to research customers as well as clinical customers. At the moment, research volume is running at 55% of what it was in the fourth quarter, while clinical volume is running at more than 80%. While many research labs have temporarily closed, clinical settings are usually considered essential so have continued operations.

So now, let's get to the positive elements from the first-quarter report. Illumina managed to post a 2% gain in total revenue to $859 million, surpassing its guidance of $850 million to $855 million. Overall sequencing revenue of $760 million, which represented 88% of total revenue, came in ahead of the company's expectations.

Shipping delays

Weaker revenue in the first quarter was linked to temporary lab shutdowns and postponed tests. Now, concerns about the second quarter are linked to the shipping situation. With border closures and lower air freight capacity, Illumina says the risk is delays in getting its systems to customers. The positive here is that any potential slowdown is related to logistics -- not to the need for Illumina's products.

Speaking of products, orders for Illumina's NextSeq 2000 were in line with the company's expectations for the launch quarter. Almost half of the NextSeq 2000 orders were from new customers, beating Illumina's expectations. Illumina designed the NextSeq 2000, which includes 75 innovations, so that any lab can afford to run tests frequently. Though the coronavirus outbreak interrupted shipments later in the quarter, I'm optimistic about the strength of orders.

Considering that the coronavirus effect is temporary, taking a look at Illumina's past offers clues about the future. Illumina has surpassed earnings estimates for the past four quarters, and annual revenue has been increasing for about 15 years. Illumina holds about 70% of the sequencing market, according to Morningstar. And it's likely Illumina will remain a leader. The company's patents -- more than 1,000 -- and the complexity of genome sequencing technology offer a serious barrier to entry for new players. Another plus: Illumina focuses on "short reads" of genetic material, which is considered more accurate than the technique known as the long read.

Shares of Illumina are trading near an all-time high and have surpassed Wall Street's average estimate by more than 9%. But for the long-term investor, there likely will be more to gain from Illumina due to the company's market share and revenue growth. For some investors, Illumina may be an opportunity to make millions.

Adria Cimino has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Illumina. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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