Greenberg: Intuitive's Good News -- Less Bad

Tickers in this article: ISRG

SAN DIEGO (TheStreet) -- I've said in the past that this coming earnings report for Intuitive Surgical will be an important one, especially on the heels of two horrific, off-the-cliff quarters.

The company needed to show stabilization -- and based on guidance it provided today, ahead of next week's earnings release, it did.

The headline news: Total revenue of $576 million for the fourth quarter will beat analysts' estimates. That's better than the 7% decline in the third quarter. However, for perspective: It's still down 5% from a year earlier, when the company was posting a 22% gain.

System sales, meanwhile, were down 23%, better than the 32% drop a quarter ago but, again, for perspective: They were up 18% a year earlier.

Procedures: Up 12% vs. a 16% increase the quarter before and a 25% rise a year earlier.

And that's my point: The company, for the most recent quarter, appears to be stabilizing. That's a single quarter. It continues to warn that in the U.S. it is being impacted by "moderating procedure growth in benign gynecology, combined with changing hospital capital spending priorities associated with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, partially offset by higher international systems sales, led by higher da Vinci system sales in Japan."

Reality: The devil will be in the details of the final report. Onward.

-- Written by Herb Greenberg in San Diego