Intuitive Surgical Buyout Talk Likely Overblown, But Stock Could Approach Attractive Levels When Rumors Subside

If you follow the market closely you may know the name Intuitive Surgical (ISRG). The maker of the expensive da Vinci robotic surgical system had been one of the hottest stocks in recent years before the market took a tumble. At its high of more than $350 per share, the stock commanded a startling P/E of more than 70 but the recent market correction brought the shares back down to earth, to less than $100 earlier this year.

ISRG stock has soared well above $100 (it is $107 as I write this) in part due to rumors that Johnson and Johnson (JNJ) was considering making a bid for the company. JNJ has been active in acquiring medical companies lately, but this rumor is one that seems to be started by the hedge fund community more than by industry insiders.

If the same rumor keeps coming up over and over again (like this one) but a deal never materializes, it is usually a sign that it really is just a rumor. In the fast moving trading world, especially with a high flier like ISRG, starting a quick rumor can cause an immediate reaction in the market, and profits for those who start spreading it.

Since ISRG shares have come down so much from their obscene highs, I took a quick look to see if JNJ was even mildly interested, whether the price would be right or not. To my surprise, ISRG stock is not that expensive, thanks to the recent plunge. I am not in the camp that thinks JNJ will make a run at the company right now, but even on a standalone basis ISRG has an impressive cash hoard of $900 million, or about $22 per share, and no debt. I quickly calculated core operating earnings last year to be around $4.75 per share, so applying a very conservative multiple of 15x and adding back the company’s cash gets you to a price per share in the mid 90’s ($93 to be exact).

Considering ISRG was trading below $100 before these rumors resurfaced, any drop back to that level appears to be a very reasonable price for investors who like the company’s prospects. And if a deal does come to fruition (I can’t believe ISRG management would be inclined to do a deal at these prices), that would just be an added bonus.

Full Disclosure: No position in ISRG at the time of writing, but positions may change at any time