Medical technology certainly has its "gee whiz" elements. Drug-eluting stents, neurostimulators, surgical robots, lasers -- all of these products are lucrative, medically invaluable, and undeniably cool.
Well, C.R. Bard
In fact, when you look at products like vena cava filters, urological drainage catheters, and hernia repair tools, it's pretty easy to say that Bard's products are by and large boring, if not somewhat icky as well. And that's perfectly fine, because Bard has made an attractive and lucrative business out of boring, but necessary, medical devices.
Sales in the first quarter climbed 12% as Bard experienced growth across all of its product lines. The oncology business grew the most at 18%, while the urology business (the company's largest segment) was the laggard at 9% top-line growth. Other lines, including vascular and surgery, grew in the low-to-mid teens.
For a company that is willing to provide detailed analysis of the factors that led to an improvement in gross margin, I find it rather surprising and frustrating that the earnings release lacks a cash flow statement, or even a balance sheet. So if, by chance, management reads this, I'd strongly urge it to consider offering a bit more financial info in future releases.
That aside, there's a lot to like about this medical device maker. No single products are make-or-break contributors to the business, yet the company has real growth opportunities with products like ablation catheters, incontinence control products, and soft-tissue surgical tools.
Looking just a little bit ahead, new products in the ablation catheter and hernia markets should hit the market in the next couple of years, and a carotid stent product could be launched in Europe early next year.
Bard doesn't necessarily seem cheap at first blush, but I'd argue that it has quite a bit going in its favor. In addition to strong margins, Bard sports solid returns on assets and equity. What's more, not only is the health-care business decidedly non-cyclical (if you don't believe me, just try postponing a heart attack or broken arm until the economy improves), but Bard's business is oriented toward relatively low-cost disposables that are used repeatedly.
While the likes of Medtronic
For more on the world of medical technology, see:
- Stent Success Propels Boston Scientific
- CardioDynamics' Code Blue
- Investing in Controlling Obesity
- Can Biomet Elbow the Competition?
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).