Why Stratasys and 3D Systems Should Consider Merging

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Following Tuesday’s announcement by General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) of the acquisition of two small European 3D printing firms, shares of the two leading U.S.-traded 3D printing companies got a nice boost. Shares of 3D Systems Inc. (NYSE: DDD) rose 5.6% and Stratasys Ltd. (NASDAQ: SSYS) got a lift of 3.8%.

At Friday’s closing prices, both traded down about 80% from their peak share prices of December 2013. Also as of Friday, 3D Systems’ market cap was $1.67 billion and Stratasys’s was $1.15 billion.

Shareholders in both companies must be hoping for a dose of acquisition fever now that GE has pulled the trigger on an acquisition in the 3D printing space. While the size of the deal is relatively modest, it validates the application of 3D printing technology in one of the largest industrial sectors of the market.

GE’s acquisition of Sweden-based Arcam and Germany-based SLM Solutions addresses GE’s expected demand for jet engines over the next several years. Both European firms supply metal-based additive manufacturing technology to the aerospace industry.

CFM International, a 50/50 joint venture of GE and Safran Aircraft Engines of France count more than 11,000 LEAP engines on order with up to 20 fuel nozzles in every engine, and each nozzle’s interior is now manufactured using 3D printing. The company expects its aviation division’s Auburn, Alabama, manufacturing plant to ramp production to more than 40,000 fuel nozzles using additive manufacturing technology by 2020.

Another major player in 3D printing is HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), but its 3D printing capabilities remain polymer-based. Either one or both of the two independents may make sense as an acquisition to fill out HP’s gap in metal-based printing. But HP just got into the 3D printing business and is probably willing to go it alone for a while in order to figure out what it has and what it might need.

GE’s acquisition likely was intended to meet its own internal needs. Any possible expansion beyond that increases the chances of another acquisition, but that is probably further down the road.

So, while one or both of 3D Systems and Stratasys may be takeover targets, a merger of the two may make the most sense in the near term. Both companies offer metal-based printing services, and scaling up could boost their competitiveness to traditional manufacturing techniques.

Stratasys has given back all the gains it made Tuesday, trading down about 3.7% in the noon hour Wednesday, at $21.92 in a 52-week range of $14.48 to $32.52. The consensus 12-month price target on the stock is $22.46.

3D Systems traded down about 2%, at $15.44 in a 52-week range of $6.00 to $19.76. Its consensus price target is $14.35.