We all want to own fast-growing businesses with rocket-powered stock prices. But we also want low-risk investments that won't fall back to earth like Icarus when they fly too close to the sun. But that's an impossible combination in a single stock, right?
Nope. Don't you just love it when you find one stock that meets your need for speed and security, all at once?
A little bit of this, a little bit of that
That's exactly what I see in Intuitive Surgical
No wonder patients are clamoring for this high-tech treatment, helping to expand its use into many procedures, including prostatectomies, heart surgery, and pediatric procedures. You might expect Intuitive Surgical's competitors to steal a lot of these sales, and that's a reasonable caveat. With the Baby Boomers moving into the brittle health that comes with advanced years, there should be plenty of companies clamoring to serve this attractive market.
One analyst estimated it as a $1 billion market in 2008, growing to as much as $14 billion by 2014. Who wouldn't want a piece of that action?
The safety dance!
But the competition is nowhere to be found. In its 10-K annual report, Intuitive Surgical itself considers its nearest rivals to be "existing open surgery, [minimally invasive surgery], drug therapies, radiation treatment and emerging interventional surgical approaches." And even as the traditional and minimally invasive surgeons develop their skills and procedures, many of those advances could be done better with a robotic hand. "We believe that our da Vinci Surgical System may actually prove complementary to these new technologies," the company's 10-K filings suggests.
A couple of companies do have surgical robots on the market or under development, including multinational giants like Hitachi
No way, Jose
By getting an early lead in this field, and then ruthlessly killing or buying up all of the serious competition, as well as licensing or owning over 250 U.S. patents (and many international ones), Intuitive Surgical has dug a massive moat around its business and filled it with toxic sludge and mutant killer whales. (With lasers on their heads.) Given that protection, the only realistic way to grab a slice of Intuitive Surgical's business now is to just buy the company.
That's the risk aspect of Intuitive Surgical in a nutshell. Short of someone like Medtronic
Show me the money!
Remember the analyst's 2008 estimate of a $1 billion market size for robot-assisted surgery? Intuitive Surgical's revenue last year was $875 million. If the company can hold on to that kind of market share, then we're looking at more than $12 billion in sales in five years. That's approximately 55% sales growth, every year for six years. And it also happens to be Intuitive Surgical's past five-year annual growth rate in sales.
Sound too good to be true, you say? The crisis-stricken 2008 saw 46% higher sales than 2007, which in turn was 61% better than 2006. I think it's fair to say that some hospitals probably pushed big investments like new robotic surgeons into the future, rather than eliminating them entirely. I wouldn't be surprised if Intuitive Surgical was back on that 55% pace again when the books for 2009 are tallied. But even if it isn't, and it doesn't regain that hypergrowth, it can still settle for a "mere" 30% or so (which it did over the past four quarters) and continue to dominate the robot-assisted surgery market.
In the meantime, this is already one of my best-performing holdings. Despite having fallen 57% off its one-year highs, Intuitive Surgical has given me a 59% return in three years, while the S&P 500 took a 30% hit to the kneecap. And I fully expect this market-stomping performance to continue.
Closing words to the wise
In short, Intuitive Surgical is what you'd get if Research In Motion
Intuitive Surgical and Hansen Medical are both Rule Breakers picks. Nokia is anInside Valueselection. Johnson & Johnson is anIncome Investorrecommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Intuitive Surgical, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.
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