Whoa! These 3 Stocks Are on the Ball


With the president calling for new initiatives on the federal minimum wage, immigration, gun control, and early childhood education, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was filled with ennui, closing the day down 35 points. It's been hovering around the 14,000-point threshold for the past seven trading days, leaving analysts wondering whether it's peaked or readying itself for the next leg up.

Yet the following three companies had no concern regarding comprehensive social issues. They were minding their Ps and Qs and getting the job done, something Congress might want to consider.


% Gain

Proto Labs






Share performance past five days.

Now, resist the urge to high-five everyone in the cubicles next to you. Smart investors won't celebrate until they know why their stock surged, because without a fundamental basis for the bounce, these stocks could just as quickly make the return trip down.

Printing money
The difference between Proto Labs and 3D Systems and Stratasys is that the latter two sell you the tools to do your own 3-D printing, the printers and consumables, while the former does it for you. Product developers submit their designs to Proto Labs, and they'll manufacture custom parts and prototypes to the specifications.

Proto Labs believes the low-volume manufacturing market has been underserved because it's often difficult to ascertain what it will cost to produce these low-run custom items. But using a complex algorithm to analyze the design and determine what it takes to manufacture it, Proto Labs is able to appropriately quote the spec and still live up to its motto, "real parts, really fast."

It must be working, because the 3-D parts maker reported financial results showing that fourth-quarter revenues surged 31% ahead of analyst expectations, generating profits of $0.31 per share, a $0.05 beat to Wall Street forecasts. At around 40 times earnings estimates, Proto Labs is comparably priced to 3D Systems and Stratasys, but when you factor in what analysts are expecting in terms of long-term growth, Proto Labs is the cheaper stock.

Dialing up profits
Also apparently working out is Vonage's reintroduction of service agreements, those pernicious contracts that require you to remain with a specific carrier for a set period of time, sort of like an indentured servant who has to work off his debt. Customer churn at the VoIP specialist dropped to 2.5% from 2.7% a year ago, and though it was flat sequentially, it just might have been lower had Pakistan not raised the cost of completing an international call in the country by an unprecedented 500%. Obviously, Vonage couldn't keep the country on its unlimited access plan, and it resulted in 15,000 net line reductions in the quarter.

The carrier implemented the service agreement plan a year ago, and though I thought it a risky option to believe that more customers didn't want to be tethered to a company for two years, Vonage seems to be making it work in its favor.

Revenues were up 3% to $214 million, and though earnings declined slightly on a per-share basis they remained flat as it continued to buy back shares. That also informed its decision to authorize a new $100 million repurchase program as well as entering into a new credit agreement for up to $145 million.

For what once looked like a company on the brink of disaster, Vonage appears to be clawing its way back up to respectability.

Break on through to the other side!
Drug developer Pharmacyclics and its partner Johnson & Johnson got a big boost from the FDA on Tuesday, as it granted their cancer drug candidate ibrutinib two breakthrough therapy designations, meaning the regulatory agency will accept preliminary clinical evidence showing that the drug offers significant improvements over currently available treatments.

As Foolish health-care analyst Max Macaluso notes, if Pharmacyclics can continue the string of positive developments it's already achieved, it could earn nearly $1 billion in milestone payments from the pharmaceutical giant. It's already received $300 million and stands to gain an additional $675 million if it ultimately meets its end points.

The designations don't guarantee approval, and it still has some distance to run, but so far, Pharmacyclics appears headed in the right direction.

Whoa, Nelly!
3D Systems is at the leading edge of a disruptive technological revolution, with the broadest portfolio of 3-D printers in the industry. However, despite years of earnings growth, 3D Systems' share price has risen even faster, and today the company sports a dizzying valuation. To help investors decide whether the future of additive manufacturing is bright enough to justify the lofty price tag on the company's shares, The Motley Fool has compiled a premium research report on whether 3D Systems is a buy right now. In our report, we take a close look at 3D Systems' opportunities, risks, and critical factors for growth. You'll also find reasons to buy or sell, and receive a full year of analyst updates with the report. To start reading, simply click here now for instant access.

The article Whoa! These 3 Stocks Are on the Ball originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems, Johnson & Johnson, Proto Labs, and Stratasys; owns shares of 3D Systems, Johnson & Johnson, and Stratasys; and has options on 3D Systems. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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