Barring some unforeseen calamity, Intuitive Surgical 's(NASDAQ: ISRG) stock is about to do something that has only happened once before in the company's history: post three consecutive years of positive returns. Could 2017 be yet another winning year -- and maybe even the robotic-assisted surgical systems maker's best year yet?
During the company's history, Intuitive Surgical has had four years where the stock more than doubled. Shares more than tripled in value in two of those years. That kind of performance is hard to beat.
While the company has many positives headed into 2017, there are also some challenges. Growth rates for mature procedures like prostate surgery will likely taper off somewhat. It's possible that political tensions with China could hold back Intuitive Surgical's growth in that market.
It's not unrealistic to expect Intuitive Surgical's stock to post double-digit percentage gains next year, as it is on track to do in 2016. However, where the company is now in terms of market penetration is a lot different than where it was 11 or 12 years ago when the stock was in overdrive.
Ask again later
I think that Intuitive Surgical's main competition next year won't come from a rival. Instead, the company's biggest challenges will probably be macroeconomic factors such as rising interest rates, international trade policies, and perhaps hospitals tightening capital budgets in anticipation of a rollback of Obamacare.
However, stiffer competition is likely coming relatively soon. Mazor Robotics (NASDAQ: MZOR) is already gaining momentum with its Maxor X robot-guided surgical systems in the spine surgery market. The Israel-based company has also partnered with big medical device make Medtronic (NYSE: MDT) , which already bought a stake in Mazor and will ultimately own 15% as part of the two companies' strategic agreement.
For now, Mazor doesn't present a significant threat to Intuitive Surgical. But both companies will want to grow -- and that means expanding the types of procedures performed with their systems.
This coming challenge from Mazor and Medtronic might make it increasingly tougher for Intuitive Surgical to achieve positive stock returns as it has in 10 of the last 17 years. Will Intuitive be able to respond effectively? The magic 8-ball says, "Ask again later."
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Keith Speights has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Intuitive Surgical. The Motley Fool owns shares of Medtronic. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .