Are 3-D Printing Stocks Making a Comeback After Cratering in 2014?

Editors' pick: Originally published April 1.

When 3-D printing first started receiving widespread attention in the past several years, the hype was overwhelming.

The ability to create three-dimensional objects using a digital file was both exciting and ground-breaking. The potential uses felt endless, too -- from industrial prototypes to inexpensive medical devices to everyday household objects.

Some in the media even claimed that a third industrial revolution was upon us.

For investors, 3-D printing seemed like a great opportunity, and stocks skyrocketed accordingly. But alas, it wasn't meant to last.

In 2014, share prices for 3-D printing companies cratered. The technology remains as innovative and important as it ever was, but the rapid rise in share prices proved to be a bubble that burst.

But 3-D printing stocks are enjoying a surge, and short interest in the industry is down. Although share prices are nowhere near the levels they were before the collapse, prices appear a lot more realistic and sustainable.

For investors turned off by the volatility of the 3-D printing industry, now might be a good time to take a second look.

Here are some stocks to consider:

1. 3D Systems (DDD)

Last year was mostly bad for 3D Systems, and 2014 was even worse. The company, which produces 3-D printers for both consumer and industrial use, is starting to turn around this year.

3D Systems strongly exceeded fourth-quarter expectations, reporting adjusted earnings per share of 19 cents, compared with the average analyst estimate of 3 cents a share, on revenue of $183.4 million, beating the $166.38 million forecast.

Shares are up about 73% for the year to date.

Proving the versatility of 3-D printing, 3D Systems announced a partnership with sports apparel company Under Armour to print sneaker soles. Production is limited on the sneaker, but it could mean more to come for 3D Systems.

2. ExOne  (XONE)

ExOne provides 3-D printing products and services to industrial customers. This year so far, its stock price has increased about 29%, partly due to beating fourth-quarter revenue expectations.

That is positive news after the company failed to meet expectations in previous quarters. Although the company still posted a loss of 8 cents a share in the fourth quarter, sales were up 2.8% compared from a year earlier.

If ExOne continues to beat or at least meet expectations, the company could start gaining some of the share value lost when the 3-D printing bubble burst.

3. Voxeljet (VJET)

When 3-D printing stocks began to decline two years ago, Voxeljet was hit especially hard. The German industrial 3-D printing company has posted losses in previous quarters, and missed fourth-quarter earnings estimates by 3 cents a share when it reported on Thursday.

However, the company's share value is up about 17% for the year, thanks to stronger-than-expected financial guidance for the rest of 2016.

Newcomers

There could be some big new players in 3-D printing. For instance, Hewlett-Packard launches its first 3-D printers this year and hopes to attract business customers.

On the consumer front, Apple has been rumored to be planning an entry into 3-D printing. Rumors often swirl around Apple with varying degrees of truth, but at the very least, it is known that the company is interested in 3-D printers.

A patent application filed by the company in 2014 is for a 3-D printer that can both create an object and color it.

Whether Apple actually releases its own product remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that there is a lot of potential for the technology. 

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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