At The Motley Fool, we poke plenty of fun at Wall Street analysts and their endless cycle of upgrades, downgrades, and "initiating coverage at neutral." So you might think we'd be the last people to give virtual ink to such "news." And we would be -- if that were all we were doing.
But in "This Just In," we don't simply tell you what the analysts said. We'll also show you whether they know what they're talking about. To help, we've enlisted Motley Fool CAPS, our tool for rating stocks and analysts alike. With CAPS, we track the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and brightest -- and its worst and sorriest, too.
Blame it on Goldman
Shareholders in robotic surgery specialist Intuitive Surgical
Yesterday, the most hated and feared name in investment banking waded into the medical-devices debate with a slew of upgrades, downgrades, and new ratings as the firm "repositions" its Medical Technology portfolio. Here's a quick rundown of Goldman's new roadmap:
(NYSE: BCR)and Carefusion (NYSE: CFN)both received new buy ratings Monday.
(NYSE: ZMH)got a downgrade to neutral, while Becton Dickinson (NYSE: BDX)received an upgrade to that same rating.
- Last and most crucially, Goldman tagged Varian Medical
(NYSE: VAR)and Intuitive Surgical with "initiations at sell."
What's behind the new ratings? At its core, we're seeing a one-firm "flight to safety" -- and away from risky investments. Goldman picked Becton, Bard, and CareFusion to outperform because these suppliers of such near-commodities as needles, syringes, catheters and other disposables are less risky bets than purveyors of pricier wares.
In a constrained pricing environment, Goldman warns that orthopedic specialists such as Zimmer will face pricing pressure. (Motley Fool Inside Value members beware: I wouldn't be too surprised to see Goldman downgrading Zimmer's key ortho-rival, Stryker
Hold up a sec. Did you say "saturated?"
That point in Goldman's sell rating really stuck in my craw. You can certainly argue that Intuitive Surgical is expensive, at more than 36 times trailing earnings. You can worry that budget-cutting among European "socialized medicine" states will crimp overseas sales, as Brean Murray argued earlier this year, and as Goldman echoes today. But saturated markets seem like the least of Intuitive's problems.
Within the U.S. alone, there are more than 5,700 hospitals in operation. Yet according to Intuitive Surgical, its products currently occupy pride of place in "more than 900 academic and community hospital sites" worldwide -- an impressive number, but fewer than one hospital in six in the U.S. alone. Furthermore, most of the hospitals that have an Intuitive surgical robot on site have just that -- a single robot on site.
Far from trying to sell into a saturated market, Intuitive Surgical has years and years of growth ahead of it, as its robots fill out a practically empty base of potential users. Recognizing this, the average analyst (Goldman excluded) predicts that the company will continue growing at a near-25% annual clip over the next five years -- a growth rate that almost perfectly aligns with the stock's current price-to-free cash flow ratio of just over 25.
In sum, while I don't yet consider Intuitive Surgical undervalued, I do believe it's reached a fair price. Perversely, that makes Goldman's downgrade good news for investors who want to own a piece of the company today. At long last, you can do so without overpaying.
Send your thank-you wishes care of Goldman Sachs.
Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 550 out of more than 165,000 members. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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