This Companys Competitive Advantage Is Clear

By Markets Fool.com

If you're an investor looking for a market-share leader with a dominant brand name and huge addressable market, one top stock you'll want to check out is Align Technologies (NASDAQ: ALGN).

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In this clip from The Motley Fool's Industry Focus: Healthcare, analyst Kristine Harjes and Fool Funds portfolio manager Charly Travers dive into the merits of Align's Invisalign Technology and their market opportunity.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This podcast was recorded on Oct. 19, 2016.

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Charly Travers: Align Technology is the maker of the Invisalign tooth alignment system. They are the alternative to metal braces. Their core market, historically, has been adults who have decided at some point in their life that their teeth were not as straight as they would like, then they use Invisalign instead of deciding to use metal braces. There's a couple reasons behind that. They're more comfortable to wear; there's no restrictions on the types of food you can eat; you can take them out a little bit at night if you feel like it; and they're basically invisible -- for some people, that's a concern. Invisalign is far and away the market-share leader there. Speaking of, we prefer companies with strong competitive advantages. Align gets it on two fronts. They have to do a lot of R&D. They've been doing this for 15 years to build products that actually work, because the dentists won't use them if they don't. Then, there's regulatory approvals that any new company who wants to do this would have to do that as well. So, they've paired those barriers to entry with creating a brand around their product. Some of the best companies in the world got there because they have a brand that consumers love, and they just built that out. So they have multiple angles around their competitive advantage that we really find admirable.

Kristine Harjes: Yeah. This really does remind me of a Kleenex or Band-Aid situation. You think, clear dentistry orthodontic equipment -- I don't even know how to say it in a generic way -- you think Invisalign. That is the brand with the sticking power. And, of course, they have patents out the wazoo covering them, I'm sure, in case a competitor did want to come out. One thing that stood out to me as a potential problem for this business would be insurance coverage. Is that an issue to look out for? And how have they met that challenge?

Travers: I'll step back for a little bit. When I first got started following healthcare about 15 years ago, all you had to worry about was whether or not the FDA was going to approve your product. Then, you could basically name your price. The world has changed dramatically. Not just for drugs and medical devices, where Medicare and the insurers are pushing hard on price. We're moving to a world of value-based pricing. So when you look at a company like Invisalign, it's generally not covered by an insurance plan. It's usually about a $5,000 procedure that someone pays for out of pocket. There's a pro and a con to that. The pro means, they set their own pricing, and if someone agrees to pay it, they get it. They're not worried about an insurance company coming to them next year and saying, "You have to lower your prices by 10% or we're not going to cover you." There's so many issues like that affecting lab tests, diagnostic test, medical devices, where Medicare and the insurers are pushing them on price, and they have no pricing power. A company like Invisalign has pricing power. But, on the flip side, they have to worry about whether or not people can actually afford it.

Harjes: Right. And it seems like, even though it is an elective procedure, people are electing to do it. Their market share is very strong relative to any sort of competitors, because they're practically nonexistent, but in the grand scheme of people who have malocclusion -- which is, I learned, how you say "crooked teeth" in fancy medical terms -- they're just scratching the tip of that population.

Travers: Right. So, as I mentioned, their core market, historically, has been adults, because if it's your mom or dad and it's a $5,000 for the procedure, you might do it for yourself. For your 15 year old who might lose the aligners or not use them properly, and then the treatment doesn't work, that's a higher bar to get through. So, they're just starting through education programs to tell parents, "Look, we've tried this in teens. If you tell them the importance of doing it responsibly, they will actually do that." So, they're starting to get a little more traction in that market, which is a far bigger market than adults.

Harjes: Another element that I can see coming into play here is the aesthetics of it. When you're an adult, you don't want to get braces, because you look around and nobody else has braces. But when you're a kid, everybody's got braces. You're comparing what band color you want next with your best friend, because that's just how it goes when you're in middle school. I can see it being a little bit more difficult to convince parents that it's worth the added expense to get these nice-looking clear ones, when the kid might not really care. But I can also see, over time, that becoming a little bit trendier, to go toward this clear, better-looking feel.

Travers: And they are more comfortable, and you don't have to alter what you're eating as well. So I think there's two advantages there, regardless of the person's age.

Charly Travers has no position in any stocks mentioned. Kristine Harjes has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Align Technology. 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.