By Frank Tobe, Editor and Publisher, The Robot Report
If an enterprising firm set up a mutual fund reflecting the worldwide robotics industry, they might choose to separate their picks into three segments, which might look something like this:
- Industrial Robot Manufacturers
- Service Robot Makers of security, defense and space robots
- Service Robot Makers of robots for all other purposes
Although I am neither a broker nor an analyst, I do track the business of robotics and the performance of those companies within the industry publicly traded on various global stock exchanges. In fact, I started compiling and tracking the stocks at the end of 2007, and set up a comparative index, Robo-Stox™, because no brokerage or mutual fund firm had such a fund or funds or index. I began this just in time to watch the stocks tank in 2008 and 2009 and recover in 2010 through 2012. What follows is a wrap-up of what I found of particular interest in 2012.
As can be seen from this 5-year Robo-Stox™ chart, not all stocks have fully recovered their 2007 year-end highs; the average stock hasn't... but many have succeeded in full recovery, particularly in the non-industrial sector. And, as can be seen from the Big-4 chart below, the biggest industrial robot manufacturers did quite well in 2012.
KUKA's stock was up 22% for the year -- the standout performer of the group. KUKA AG has invested heavily in facilities and marketing in China and their long-term prospects appear to be good.
Service robot companies, particularly high-tech medical/surgical stocks had a very mixed year.
- MAKO Surgical had two serious slides during the year taking the stock from a high of $44 to its present low of $12 -- all because of missed analyst expectations.
- Intuitive Surgical (of da Vinci Surgical Robot fame) also had a roller coaster year with a high of $588, a low of $440, and ended literally where it began the year.
- Accuray , whose robotic radiation therapy Cyberknife did quite well during the year, was up 42% from $4.43 to $6.31 at year-end.
- Swisslog Holdings' stock, traded on the Swiss Stock Exchange (SLOG: SW), was up more than 45% for the year. Their pill-making and dispensing systems and hospital tugs are doing well and their warehousing robots are also benefiting from the trend to automate distribution centers.
- Israel's Mazor Robotics (MZOR: IT) and their spine implant system did well too -- up from $110 at the beginning of the year to $229 at year's end!
- iRobot , similar to MAKO Surgical, also had two serious stock drops during the year -- both caused by the company having to restate expectations because of government cutbacks even though revenues from the military represent only a third of gross revenues.
- QinetiQ Group PLC (QQ: LN), on the other hand, a British company, gets 100% of its revenue from governmental sources. Its stock was up more than 35% for the year as were its profits.
- Many conglomerates have subsidiaries that produce unmanned air, sea and land robots (and their support systems) for defense and security governmental agencies. This is a global market with global players. Elbit Systems , an Israeli company, is a case in point. They have a big UAV operation but that unit's revenues are just a small portion of those from the overal company, thus their stock is certainly not a robotics pure play. Elbit's stock, which had a long slide and a short recovery during 2012, broke even for the year.
- Industrial robotic providers had a good year
- Military robot makers saw governmental cutbacks reflected in their stock prices and are widening their sales and transforming their products to sell to municipal governments
- Surgical and hospital service robot suppliers had a mixed year, the former held up by patents and FDA approvals, the latter (eg, Swisslog) did quite well.
- Most other new-tech robotic companies are privately or equity-fund held, hence, no idea as to their results other than news about contracts received. For example, venture funded Liquid Robotics, during 2012, established a new joint venture with oil conglomerate Schlumberger and a new naval division for governmental and Navy contracts. Wouldn't you like to own a few shares of that company?
Also see Filling a need... or feeding a diversion for more stock info.