Today: Intuitive Surgical has its best day on Wall Street in years after its new surgical robots are approved for sale. Also: Hewlett-Packard hits new highs after lawsuit settlement.
The Lead: New Intuitive Surgical robots approved, stock spikes
Intuitive Surgical surged Tuesday after the company announced that the Food and Drug Administration had approved of its new surgical robots, which could ameliorate concerns about market saturation that had damaged the Sunnyvale company's stock.
Intuitive Surgical moved as high as $503.31 Tuesday before closing with a 12.7 percent gain at $493.60, easily the largest daily percentage gain in the SV150 and the stock's largest jump since January 2011.
Enthusiasm stemmed from the federal OK for the next generation of the company's da Vinci surgical robot system, the company's sole physical product that costs more than $1.5 million apiece. The new da Vinci Xi offers more functionality than the previous system, with the surgical arm positioned overhead with the ability for more motion, allowing the robot to be used in more complex surgeries without the surgeon being forced to reposition the entire system.
"We strive to provide the most advanced, least invasive option for surgery, and we are working hard to make minimally invasive surgery the standard of care," CEO Gary Guthart said in Tuesday's announcement.
Intuitive Surgical's standing in the investment community took a hit in 2013 as sales of its previous generation of surgical robots waned. The company's revenues gained 4 percent in 2013 after jumping more than 20 percent every year since 2006, and analysts have suggested that the market for its sole product was saturated.
"The penetration of the U.S. market is becoming quite high, and it's going to be tougher and tougher for Intuitive to add another robot to a facility that might already have two," Morningstar analyst Alex Morozov told Reuters last April.
With the new functionality of the da Vinci Xi, Intuitive Surgical could go back to U.S. customers that previously didn't see a reason to add more products with an offering that includes greater functionality, and international sales could see a bump.
"This new launch will likely be viewed as a possible way for the company to revitalize the company's system sales growth," Leerink Partners analyst Richard Newitter wrote Tuesday.
Still, Newitter wrote, nothing is certain.
"It is unclear to us how many incremental systems sales the new robot will drive at this early stage, and whether the features of the new robot will in fact help drive higher utilization into new surgery areas that previously were not occurring," he added.
Intuitive Surgical -- the second largest public medical device company in Silicon Valley in terms of revenues, behind Varian Medical Systems -- still faces questions about the safety of robotic surgical procedures. The FDA has been investigating a spike in reported problems with the da Vinci system, which coincided with growth of the system's popularity, but Tuesday's approval may signal that the authorities have not found enough issues to hold back further advances in the technology.
The cost of the da Vinci system will continue to be an issue, with the da Vinci Xi carrying a similar price tag to its predecessor.
"They enjoyed some easier, boom years when doctors and patients were awed by the thought of surgical robotics turning surgeons into super-surgeons," University of Michigan business professor Erik Gordon told Bloomberg News last year. "Now, the people who pay for the surgery are stepping in and questioning whether the robots are worth the extra cost."
SV150 market report: HP hits 52-week high as S&P reaches new mark
Wall Street had a strong day, with the Standard & Poor's 500 index closing at a record high for the seventh time in 2014. Technology stocks easily outperformed the larger market, with the Nasdaq shooting up 1.6 percent and the SV150 index of SIlicon Valley's largest tech companies getting a boost from Hewlett-Packard.
HP, the second largest tech company in Silicon Valley, hit a 52-week high of $33.45 and closed with a 2.7 percent gain at $33.23 after settling a shareholder lawsuit stemming from Leo Apotheker's reign as CEO. The lawsuit stemmed from Apotheker's abrupt decision to halt sales of HP's TouchPad tablet soon after the product hit the market and stop producing products using the WebOS operating system that HP acquired in its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm. Reuters reported that the settlement will involve a payment of $57 million, but HP's statement only said that, "HP has reached a mutually acceptable resolution through a mediated settlement." The Palo Alto tech giant still has other concerns stemming from Apotheker's decisions, with a shareholder lawsuit stemming from the acquisition of Autonomy also reportedly reaching settlement talks this year.
The only Silicon Valley company with larger revenues than HP, Apple, gained 0.9 percent to $541.65 Tuesday as opening statements began in the company's second Silicon Valley patent trial with Samsung. Google jumped 1.8 percent to $1.134.89 as it heads toward a stock split that should bring per-share costs back to triple digits. Tesla Motors continued its recent bounce back with a 4.1 percent advance to $216.97 as CBS News called engine noises added to visuals of a Model S an "audio error," and Elon Musk's company joined in the typical April Fool's Day tech celebration by announcing pet-driving cars. Nvidia rose 4.1 percent to $18.65 after JMP Securities analyst Alex Gauna upgraded the Santa Clara company with a higher price target, writing, "the company is successfully realigning its business model." Netflix increased 3.6 percent to $364.69 despite the FCC denying its bid for broader net neutrality rules, then the Los Gatos video-on-demand company announced a new original program after the bell that will have an international flavor.
Up: Intuitive Surgical, Pandora, Yelp, Workday, Nvidia, Tesla, Facebook, Cisco, Gilead, SolarCity, Netflix, VMware, Salesforce, HP, Juniper, SanDisk, Zynga, Google
Down: QuinStreet, Neophotonics, Accuray, InvenSense, Leapfrog
The SV150 index of Silicon Valley's largest tech companies: Up 29.36, or 1.93 percent, to 1,551.99
The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index: Up 69.05, or 1.64 percent, to 4,268.04
The blue chip Dow Jones industrial average: Up 74.95, or 0.46 percent, to 16,532.61
And the widely watched Standard & Poor's 500 index: Up 13.18, or 0.7 percent, to 1,885.52
Check in weekday afternoons for the 60-Second Business Break, a summary of news from Mercury News staff writers, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and other wire services. Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/jowens510.