Under the Radar: Millipore's Biotech Boost

"Under the Radar" is a daily feature that uncovers little-known companies worthy of investors' consideration. Check in at 5 every morning to find out about stocks that tend to beat their bigger brethren.

Biotech stocks move.

And intrepid investors can profit off the swings. But you have to be stationed in the right companies at the right time to make money. It's tricky for investors who lack a scientific background and regulatory knowledge to find sure things. So here's a mid-cap company that helps movers-and-shakers such as Pfizer ( PFE), Amgen ( AMGN) and Eli Lilly ( LLY) develop drugs. The stock may not double anytime soon, but it's a strong play on pharmaceutical growth.

Billerica, Massachusetts-based Millipore ( MIL) is a life-sciences company that provides technologies, tools and services for the bioscience research and biopharmaceutical manufacturing industries. Millipore was founded in 1954 as a filtration company that separated the molecular components of fluid samples. It innovated technologies that are still used in the plastics, food-and-beverage and microelectronics industries.

Millipore's first-quarter revenue climbed 3% to $408 million as net income and earnings per share surged 74% to $53 million and 93 cents, respectively. The operating margin stretched 4 percentage points to 19% and the net margin widened 5 percentage points to 13%. The net margin compares favorably to rivals in the life-sciences tools and services industry, such as Life Technologies ( LIFE) and Thermo Fisher Scientific ( TMO), whose net margins fell below 7% during the quarter.

Millipore has made considerable efforts to improve its balance sheet since the recession started. Its cash balance has surged 492% since last year's first quarter and the debt load has decreased 15% to just over $1 billion, which helped cut quarterly interest expenses by $4 million. The debt-to-equity ratio now stands comfortably at 0.8. And the current ratio stands tall at 2.5. We give Millipore a financial strength score of 8.9 out of 10, which is higher than our "buy"-rated average.

As a result of the company's strong operating performance and improved financial position, its stock has had an impressive run in 2009. The shares have climbed 31%, outperforming all major U.S. indexes and the Dow Jones U.S. Healthcare Index, which has risen 1%. But the stock is now trading at a premium, as indicated by a price-to-earnings ratio of 23 and a price-to-book value ratio of 2.7.