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TheStreet Open House

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) 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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