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Align Technology: Sparkling Results in Orthodontics
10/28/2020 5:00 am EST
Business at the San Jose, Calif.-based company is terrific and the future is even brighter. Sales rose 21% and profits shot up 50% year-over-year. But the real story investors continue to underestimate is operating margins.
Align is riding 3D printing toward zero inventories and massive future profits.
The company makes invisible orthodontics. Align has spent more than two decades working out the kinks. In the process, the company amassed a mountain of patents, acquired innovative software businesses, and managed to build massive scale in state-of-the art 3D printing technology.
Building a sparkling smile in the digital era means gently shifting teeth millimeter by millimeter in a very orchestrated way. The math is difficult and changes for each new patient. Align uses algorithms to dictate the series of unique plastic aligners patients will wear 22 hours per day for the next 13 months.
Managers at Align made 3D printing the central pillar of the business model. They perfected the processes, and now they have a large scale manufacturing business with software-like profit margins.
The company reported Q3 gross margins were 72.9%, with the operating margin surging almost 45% sequentially to 24.1%. According to FactSet, a consensus of analysts following the company were expecting a margin of only 9.7%. It’s not difficult to see the operating leverage is extreme.
A year ago I recommended that risk-oriented investor buy Align shares. I set a 24-month price target of $520, a gain of 89% from the price at that time. The stock reached $450 on the stronger Q3 results.
Even with the gains, I still believe investors are missing Align’s true appeal. Managers have the potential to both grow the core business and execute even better as they further refine the 3D printing process.
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