4 Things Intuitive Surgical, Inc. Management Wants You to Know

By Markets Fool.com

Image source: Intuitive Surgical.

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The world's leading manufacturer of robotic surgical systems, Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ: ISRG), isn't expected to report earnings for another month. But with the third quarter coming to an end, let's review four key things that management talked about during the last conference call that investors should keep their eyes on.

1. Procedure growth can't be through the roof forever

The biggest reason shares of Intuitive shares have been on fire is because procedure growth has reaccelerated. Coming into the current fiscal year, management guided for procedure growth of 9% to 12%.

That proved to be far too conservative, as procedures grew 17% and 16%, respectively, during the first and second quarters. Management has since revised their outlook to growth of 14% to 15%. That would suggest a notable slowdown during the second half. Patrick Clingan, finance director said:

We expect our procedure growth rate to moderate in the second half of 2016.

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Simple as that statement may be, it's an important reminder to Intuitive investors that -- at some point -- the eye-popping growth will slow. That could be as soon as the current quarter.

2. Hernia procedures will remain the most important growth driver

Though management lumps all hernia operations into the U.S. general surgery segment and refuses to break out specific numbers, the amount of time devoted to the procedure on conference calls makes it clear that it is the key growth driver of procedure volume.

On the call, Clingan offered an upbeat outlook on the procedure's future:

Hernia repair continues to contribute the largest volume of new procedures in general surgery, and surgeon retention and expansion remains encouraging.

While there are other procedures that could become as important in the future (colorectal and thoracic surgery, or instance), the upcoming release will likely be heavily affected by hernia operations.

3. The company is upping its reinvestment in itself

As new competitors enter the robotic surgery market, Intuitive is doubling down on its investments. These investments will not only benefit the company by creating a larger moat, but patients as well. Said CEO Gary Guthart:

We have been increasing our investments in imaging, analytics, and new product architectures based on our belief that a substantial opportunity exists to enable better outcomes and to expand access to our technologies globally. We expect... increased fixed expenses in the back half of this year.

Guthart talked specifically about three initiatives. First, the company's single port (Sp) offering is expected to come to market next year. Second, there have been extensive investments in providing more precise imaging tools to surgeons. And finally, since almost all of the daVinci systems are connected to the internet in real time, he believes Intuitive can parlay that data into real-time analytics that can help hospitals better utilize their systems.

4. The top four priorities remain the same for 2016

Guthart has been consistent in spelling out exactly where his company is focused for the year:

First, expanding the use of da Vinci in general surgery and thoracic surgery, particularly colorectal surgery and hernia repair. Second, advancing our ecosystem, including expanding our Xi line and taking our Sp product into initial clinical use. Third, driving our organizational capabilities in markets in Europe and Asia. And finally, assisting our customers in their efforts to maximize the comprehensive value of their programs.

Investors need to keep all of this in mind heading into the third quarter's earnings call. The stock is hitting all-time highs of $700 per share, and long-term investors can't lose sight of the fact that owning Intuitive can be a bumpy ride. Focusing on these metrics -- rather than the stock's price -- will help keep you focused on the right things.

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Brian Stoffel owns shares of Intuitive Surgical. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Intuitive Surgical. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.