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Fear Shakes Up Intuitive Surgical's Stock

By Dan Carroll - Apr 19, 2013 at 3:35PM

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Shares are falling fast as investors panic over lawsuits and an FDA investigation, but don't let that shake your investing strategy

Shares of medical robotics maker Intuitive Surgical (ISRG -1.86%) are in free-fall today after yesterday's earnings, with the stock plummeting 4.7% after losing a bundle yesterday as well. Earnings aren't the disappointment, however: Intuitive destroyed analyst expectations and showed solid growth in both procedures and device sales. Investors haven't been so kind to the stock, however, and with shares of the company down almost 8% in the last five days alone, it's time to ask: Why is everyone selling this stock?

Investors in a panic attack
The company's financial footing certainly isn't the culprit. Intuitive drilled earnings-per-share expectations, topping projections by $0.58 and beating revenue estimates by almost $30 million. The firm also racked up double-digit growth in both categories over the quarter a year ago, including growth of more than 30% in EPS.

So, what's really behind Intuitive's fall? It's fear.

The company has been in the spotlight recently with concerns mounting about the safety of robotic surgery. Shares weren't helped when the Food and Drug Administration announced it would investigate the company's da Vinci surgical device's complaints, looking to evaluate if the costly machine (da Vinci devices cost around $1.5 million each) added any value over traditional surgeries. That was enough to spark fear among investors, who have panicked over the thought that robotic surgery could come under fire by safety regulators. The FDA's investigation isn't an indictment, however; it's simply a follow-up on complaints.

Yet when we examine the claims more closely, it's too early to pin the blame of surgical complaints on Intuitive. The company went to trial recently over the first of several lawsuits over the da Vinci, and details are emerging that Intuitive has warned physicians about the type of patients operated on with the device. Intuitive also recommends the device for sufficiently skilled surgeons, and while at least one witness has argued that the company targeted surgeons with limited skills, for now it seems just as likely that physician failure, rather than the device itself, is responsible for da Vinci injuries.

Furthermore, the number of injuries and deaths attributable to the da Vinci is minute compared to how many operations the devices have performed. The system performed more than 300,000 operations last year alone and around 1.5 million since 2000. While justifying deaths on an operating table is never acceptable, fatalities happen in robot-assisted and traditional surgeries alike due to complications and over adverse effects.

Overall, investor fear over the da Vinci's negative PR shouldn't outweigh what this company's done in terms of growth. Between growing procedures at a steady clip (Intuitive saw 18% procedural growth last quarter despite the negative spotlight) and increasing both its top and bottom lines, Intuitive's performed as well as any major company in the health care field recently. Don't let fear drag down your investment: Intuitive's dip is a great opportunity to buy into a standout company for less.

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Intuitive Surgical, Inc. Stock Quote
Intuitive Surgical, Inc.
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