Is 3D Printing the Next Big Thing -- or the Next Solyndra?

3D imageLast night in his State of the Union speech, President Obama referred to a “state-of-the-art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.” Shares of 3D printing firms are getting a boost from the president’s mention, but careful readers will hear an echo here of the President’s praise in 2009 for now-defunct solar panel maker Solyndra.

There are currently three publicly traded companies with 3D printing products on offer: 3D Systems Corp. (NYSE: DDD), Stratasys Ltd. (NASDAQ: SSYS), and ExOne Co. (NASDAQ: XONE). ExOne held its IPO last week and shares rose 45% on the day of the offering. ExOne’s shares trade today at a premium of 58% to the IPO price.

3D Systems came public less than two years ago and now carries a market cap of around $3.65 billion. It’s forward price/earnings (P/E) ratio is a robust 40.68 and its trailing P/E is an even heftier 93.79. The consensus estimate on the stock price is around $64.70 and shares are trading around $64 today, for an upside of about 1%.

Stratasys has been a publicly traded company since the mid-1990s, but the share price didn’t really take off until last year. The company’s market cap is around $1.62 billion and the forward P/E ratio is 39.64. Trailing P/E is 87.74 and the consensus share price estimate is around $84.10. Shares are trading at about $75.20 today, for an upside potential of about 12%.

ExOne, which has been public for less than a week now, carries a market cap of $364.7 million and P/E ratios have been established nor have analysts yet produced an price target for the stock. But given the experience of the past week, one might easily conclude that the sky’s the limit.

Unlike Solyndra, none of these firms got a $500 million grant from the federal government. The rise (or fall) of 3D printing will depend mostly on how effectively it works to lower design and prototyping costs. And, again unlike Solyndra, President Obama is not picking a winner, but merely cheerleading from the sidelines.

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