May 22, 2007

Feverish Growth at Meridian Bioscience

An article from the Fool about Meridian Bioscience

Looking to add a small-cap health-care stock to your portfolio? You might want to carefully consider the recent performance and future prospects of diagnostic-test-kit maker Meridian Bioscience (NYSE: VIVO). Today, the company reported yet another record quarter of earnings and also announced a 3-for-2 stock split, while its stock price reached a new 52-week high.

Overall, the medical-diagnostics industry continues to sizzle. In January, Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT) announced an agreement to divest its core laboratory diagnostics business to General Electric (NYSE: GE) for a hefty cash sum of $8.1 billion. And just earlier this month, shares of Becton Dickinson (NYSE: BDX) hit a new 52-week high, with shareholders anticipating the company's Q2 earnings release next week.

Meridian Bioscience isn't looking too bad, either. Diluted earnings per share for the second quarter grew by 22% on a 14% increase in net sales versus the year-ago quarter. The company also confirmed its full-year guidance of diluted EPS in a range of $0.83 to $0.87 and declared a regular quarterly cash dividend of $0.16 per share -- a 39% increase in the regular quarterly rate over the prior fiscal year.

What's driving this growth at Meridian? Is it sustainable? In terms of growth drivers, Q2 earnings were fueled by greater sales of the company's test kits for stomach ulcers and upper respiratory infections. Meridian's Life Science division also rebounded from a weak Q1 in which the segment's operating income amounted to only $19,000. That amount compares unfavorably with the $848,000 the segment generated in operating income in the most recent quarter.

Management continues to seek out potential acquisition opportunities and prides itself on new-product innovation. For instance, in February, the company received FDA clearance for its new E. coli infection test. The test, the first of its kind, can differentiate between toxin 1 and toxin 2 types of E. coli and will be highly useful to hospitals in light of recent national E. coli outbreaks in the United States. With these innovations in mind, I believe that the company can maintain a high degree of growth.

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