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Reality may be pulling back on 3-D investors' expectations — and cash

By: Bill Bregar

April 11, 2014

The 3-D printing industry has enjoyed a seemingly endless wave of positive news stories — “Print me a Stradivarius: How a new manufacturing technology will change the word,” sang an Economist cover story in 2011.

Now the tune is changing, as share prices of publicly held 3-D printing equipment makers have fallen dramatically, after their meteoric rise in recent years.

Here are some recent headlines: “3-D Printer Makers Get Reality Check,” from the Wall Street Journal. Barrons.com warned: “Beware 3-D Printing.”

The WSJ reported on April 5 that the stock price of 3D Systems Corp. (New York Stock Exchange) was down 40 percent since the start of this year. Stratasys Ltd. (Nasdaq) is off about 19 percent, the Journal reported.

ExOne Co., which uses sand to make rapid molds for metal castings or powdered metal, has seen its stock price fall 46 percent since its president predicted an 80 percent increase in sales. In January, the company reported it would be about half of that number, because orders got deferred into the new year, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Most of the companies fell short of their guidance for 2013, leading to the market correction. Short sellers are circling some 3-D printing stocks.

The share price volatility shows the 3-D printing’s potential explosive growth — but over the long-term. It won’t happen overnight, no matter how many headlines boast about a revolution, industry observers said. The flurry of news reports have overhyped the fast-changing industry, said Tim Caffrey, senior consultant of Wohlers Associates Inc.

Wohlers Associates, in Fort Collins, Colo., has been tracking the sector for about 25 years. The in-depth annual Wohlers Report is the sector’s longest-running market study.

“The investment community and non-technical public are the most vulnerable to the hype. They see a photo of an $800 material extrusion machine, read an article about metal jet engine parts, and assume they can go out and buy the machine and become a manufacturer overnight, or that additive manufacturing will completely replace all other forms of manufacturing. Or they believe that every home will have a 3-D printer in the next few years,” Caffrey said. “We’ve seen many misleading articles and blog posts that suggest/imply these things.”