Growth accelerates at Intuitive Surgical

While underperforming recently, the maker of robotic medical systems shows strength during the fourth quarter.

By Benzinga Jan 23, 2013 2:01PM
 Surgeons operating on patient copyright Pete Saloutos, UpperCut Images, Getty ImagesBy Ken Shreve 

It hasn't been an easy road for Intuitive Surgical (ISRG) bulls in recent months. The stock has been in a downtrend since late April as investors question growth prospects ahead.


High-multiple stocks like Intuitive Surgical are held to a high standard during earnings season and the company didn't disappoint, temporarily allaying fears about slowing growth.


Growth-fund managers love accelerating sales growth, and Intuitive Surgical showed it across many areas when the company reported fourth-quarter results Tuesday after the close.


Fourth-quarter profit at Intuitive Surgical rose 13% to $4.25 a share, above the Thomson Reuters consensus estimate of $4.04.


Sales growth had been decelerating in recent quarters, but growth re-accelerated in the fourth quarters, rising 23% from a year ago to $609.3 million. Analysts were modeling $584.4 million.


Revenue from system sales rose 18% to $264.9 million, an acceleration from 17% growth in the third quarter. Revenue from instrument and accessory sales rose 29% to $253.8 million, an acceleration from 24% growth in the third quarter.


The company sold 175 da Vinci systems in the quarter, up 15% from a year ago. 


Overall procedures rose 25% from a year ago, driven mostly by U.S. gynecological and general surgery growth. The da Vinci system is also used in other surgical procedures, including urologic, cardiothoracic and prostatectomies. Intuitive's bread-and-butter procedure used to be prostatectomies but not anymore as medical treatment for prostate cancer shifts away from surgery.


Internationally, Intuitive Surgical continues to make progress. In the fourth quarter, the company received clearance to start selling the da Vinci system in Japan. Shipments should start in the first quarter. In Europe, Intuitive saw a "significant increase" in system sales, but CEO Gary Guthart said: "We have more work to do in building our organization to perform in a challenging environment. We expect these challenges in Europe and our investments to continue for the next several quarters."


Price and volume trends in Intuitive Surgical were suspect, to say the least, ahead of the results. Since late April, the company's market capitalization dropped by nearly $3 billion. The stock cratered 10.7% over two sessions just before Christmas after Citron Research made negative comments about the company.


Concerns about slowing growth are in the rear-view mirror for now. In midday trading Wednesday, shares of Intuitive Surgical are up over 9%. 


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