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Staar Surgical's Spike: Vision of the Future?

(STAAR Surgical story updated for comments from plaintiff's lawyer and company)

MONROVIA, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- With performance among LASIK refractive eye surgery stocks weaker than ever in 2009, is it time for investors to look beyond LASIK with their investing lens?

Staar Surgical (STAA - Get Report) was up close to 11% on Tuesday, after Japan approved its Visian Implantable Collamer Lens (ICL) for the surgical treatment of myopia.

An ICL is like a contact lens that is surgically implanted through a small incision into the eye. ICLs replace glasses -- like LASIK does, only ICL is reversible.

Eyes may pop at the one-day return in Staar Surgical, but Staar is the kind of volatile small-cap stock that can easily move in the double-digits up or down on a one-day news event. There is also a legal overhang from an ongoing court case about breach of contract with a former Staar distributor that investors will need to monitor.

There is reason to see the Japan news as a positive for Staar Surgical. The rate of myopia is 45% in Japan, as opposed to 23% worldwide. Shares of thinly traded STAAR Surgical traded at more than twice their average daily volume on the Japanese market opening -- with more than 170,000 shares traded on Tuesday versus an average of 73,000 shares.

Asia, more generally, has been a growth area for Staar. In 2009, Staar's revenues in Asia grew by 50%, while its unit sales grew by 70%, according to Barry Caldwell, president and CEO of Staar. In South Korea, Staar has 10%-11% of the market, whereas in the U.S. it only has a 1% market share.

The Japanese market for refractive eye procedures held up well during the market downturn -- surgeries were only down 3% last year, compared with double-digit declines in many markets, and Japan is the third-largest market in the world after the U.S. and China.
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