IntriCon Corp., one of the best-performing Minnesota stocks of 2017 and into the summer of last year, has gone from hot to cold.
And it didn’t take the recent bear market to get there.
On the strength of its promising, low-cost hearing aid technology, IntriCon ran from $8 per share in mid-2017 to $68 on Aug. 15, just before the stock was priced and sold. The secondary offering was priced at $55 per share. It represented a 13.5 percent discount to its market value over the previous 30 days.
IntriCon’s price has since fallen by two-thirds to about $25 per share last week. That’s still up 200 percent from its historic price before the run.
John Baker bought the shares last August at about $68.
“I realize that investing carries risk, and that people are responsible for their own decisions, but I can’t help but be curious,” Baker, a government soil scientist and adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, wrote me in an e-mail. “Can you tell me what has happened to that company? Do you think you were fed misleading information about its potential?”
I don’t think anybody lied to me. And I wasn’t pumping the stock.
IntriCon was an early and dramatic harbinger of the swoon that has hit the stock market, particularly high-flying technology companies. The tech-heavy Nasdaq market is off about 20 percent from its peak in September.
IntriCon’s management, in reporting third-quarter results in November, and also last week, said its operating and financial performance continue as predicted earlier in 2018. It has made no announcements that riled the market.
This company, which has bounced between $3 and $10 per share for most of its nearly 40 years as a publicly traded company, makes electronic components for tiny body-worn medical devices, usually assembled and marketed by other companies. Its biggest customer is Medtronic.
In mid-2017, IntriCon’s stock accelerated after a favorable regulatory ruling that allowed it to proceed with its own hearing aid product targeted at 80 percent of consumers with hearing loss. Its emerging hearing technology should undercut significantly the average $2,500 price of a hearing aid sold through the legacy channels that are controlled by several major hearing aid companies.
IntriCon also is a small-capitalization stock, worth about $210 million. It only trades about 250,000 shares a day. Interest in the company drove the price up fast and the return trip has been similar. So-called “small-cap” tech stocks tend to be very volatile in up-and-down markets.
However, IntriCon still trades at three times the $8 per share it was worth in July 2017. That was at the outset of its meteoric run, following the favorable ruling from federal health authorities.
If you owned it at $8, you still have to like it today. Maybe not as much as you did at $68.
IntriCon reported earnings of 65 cents per share for the first nine months of 2018, compared with earnings of 24 cents for the same period of 2017. Revenue rose 25 percent to $68.8 million during the first three quarters of 2018.
Moreover, the analysts who follow IntriCon still have a consensus target price of $71.50 per share on the company.
“Our solid third-quarter performance was highlighted by the medical and value hearing health business, which continue to drive strong [results],” CEO Mark Gorder, a 40-year veteran of the company said in November. “Furthermore, our ability to raise capital during the quarter has positioned us to accelerate growth and become more optimistic.”
The professional investment managers at Mairs & Power in St. Paul, who owned thousands of shares of IntriCon in the Mairs small-cap fund, reduced their position in IntriCon when it got into the “upper 50s” in July. Mairs still owns thousands of shares, but wanted to take some gains off the table.
“We view the company positively and think the stock is attractively priced at current levels,” Mairs CEO Mark Henneman said Friday.
Baker, 66, is an analytical scientist and investor who bought 100 shares of IntriCon at $68 last summer and watched it drop to $25.
“I finally gave up and sold, taking a loss of $4,300,” he told me.
Fortunately, Baker only allows himself so much “mad money” to prove to himself he’s no Warren Buffett, the legendary investor.
For the most part, Baker and his wife have done very well in their retirement accounts, buying and holding low-cost mutual funds, some of which have risen by up to 200 percent in value since the end of the Great Recession in 2009.
Never invest too much of the retirement kitty chasing hot stocks.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at email@example.com.