Cantel Medical Growth Spurt

March 11, 2011

Cantel Medical has been a good stock to hold in 2010 and so far in 2011, recently crossing the line to over $25 per share after showing a 52 week low of $13.39. Cantel is not a household word, so I thought I'd fill in my readers on what they do and why they might want to own a piece of this company.

The biotechnology stocks I own are mostly drug plays, with one surgical robotics play. Cantel Medical is a smallish company (market capitalization today ended at $440 million). Cantel specializes in infection control through sterilization and disposables. I know that infection control is more cost effective than treatment, and is becoming a much larger problem because of the evolution of multiple-antibiotic resistant bacteria. I watched Cantel for a while, then bought stock a couple of times when I thought the valuation was good.

Cantel is not a well-known name, even in hospitals, partly because it operates through named divisions. Minntech makes and markets endoscope and dialysis equipment sterilizers. Crosstex is the disposables business, working mostly in the dental market, but also moving into the general medical market. It makes face masks, sterilization patches, and other single-use items. Mar Cor makes machines to purify water, often for specialized medical needs. A smaller division is Saf-T-Pak, which produces specialty packaging for transporting specimens, and related materials.

When there are infectious disease scares Cantel gets bursts of extra revenue, so in evaluating the stock you might want to both zero-out such bursts to get a real trend line, and also figure that over time those bursts do add up.

Also, while Cantel does develop products and grows by increasing sales organically, they also grow by acquisition. If you, like me, have been burned by poor acquisition strategies of other companies, you might not take this as a recommendation. However, for the few years I have followed Cantel they have done very well with acquisitions. They don't pay to much and they usually acquire a division of a company they want, rather than the whole company. Then they cross-sell the new products with their established sales force. They have made it work.

As to the latest bump, management attributes that mainly to strong endoscope sterilizer equipment sales. The newer machines are called reprocessors; they do helpful things like inventory management that the aging machines can't do. For some reason their are a lot of aging endoscope reprocessors out there, particularly in VA hospitals, and 2011 seems to be the year they have a capital equipment budget for new machines. This burst will probably slow down later in 2011, but will stay above 2010 levels.

The water purification business just keeps growing. Also the disposables business should ramp up as the unemployment rate tweaks down this year. People have been avoiding doctor and dental visits for economic reasons; when they have the dough to head back in for a checkup, the run rate will pick up again.

So, in summary, the overall anti-infection story is a good one. Cantel is a pure infection play, and it has top-notch management. Should you be cautious because the stock has already had a good run lately? Sure, but the trailing P/E ratio at the end of today was 22.6 (per NASDAQ), which is still reasonable for a company with a strong growth track record. Today's ending price seems fair to me and attractive for long-term investors looking for diversification in the healthcare space.

For more details on quarter results, see my Cantel Medical Q2 fiscal 2011 analyst call summary.

William P. Meyers

See also: http://www.cantelmedical.com/

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Copyright 2011 William P. Meyers