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Stratasys’ MakerBot Success Means a Reality Check for 3D Systems

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Shares of Stratasys (SSYS) skyrocketed this week while those of rival 3D Systems (DDD) fell on earnings news. It's time for a 3-D printing reality check.

Start with the good news. Stratasys shot up 13% on Thursday and is trading currently around $113, down 16% for the year to date but up 15% for the past 52 weeks. The company reported sales of $178.5 million, with non-GAAP income of $28 million, 55 cents per share. Sales were up 67% from a year earlier, 35% excluding acquisitions like MakerBot. Even TheStreet's Jim Cramer likes Stratasys. 

Read More: Zynga Plunges: What Wall Street's Saying

Stratasys gave credit to the MakerBot consumer printing unit, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., which saw sales of $33.6 million for its desktop units that use plastic thread and designs from software companies like Adobe Systems (ADBE) and Autodesk (ADSK). As price points come down -- the new MakerBot Replicator Mini costs just $1,375 -- a real early adopter market is developing.

MakerBot's success is causing big players to look at the space. UPS (UPS) has a service bureau operation at select stores, producing designs through third parties. Amazon.com (AMZN) has opened a 3-D service bureau using higher-end printing shops, and sells MakerBot products. OfficeDepot (ODP) also sells MakerBot units and Staples (SPLS) has an agreement for 3D Systems' Cube.

Trip Chowdhry of Global Equities Research has speculated that Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOGL) may get into the market. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) CEO Meg Whitman may have an announcement this fall. Any of those companies could legitimize the space or they could steal MakerBot's oxygen.

3D Systems, meanwhile, fell 10% after announcing net income of just $2.1 million, 2 cents per share, on sales of $151.5 million.  Its shares currently trade around $48, down 48% for the year to date but up nearly 2% for the past 52 weeks. Year-over-year sales were up nearly 20% but most analysts considered this a miss, although the company did raise its revenue guidance for the year, and operating cash flow so far this year is well ahead of a year ago.

While 3D Systems has a consumer line called Cube, it is most focused on the industrial space, using various materials, methods of creating output, various sizes and speeds. It's a considered sale. Customers have to weigh the full cost of these products against alternative methods of production, and only sign when the cost and quality lines cross.

Read More: How Facebook Has a Huge Opportunity in China

Andrew Left of CitronResearch says he caught the divergence between the two companies early this year. Canalys analyst Tim Shepherd says the two operate differently. Stratasys makes big acquisitions like MakerBot and gives the units autonomy. 3D Systems makes small acquisitions and focuses on the industrial space. Right now what MakerBot is doing is working. "It's well known for affordable printers and they're doing deals with retailers."

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