Neal St. Anthony
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Investors really like the sound of IntriCon this year.

The company, getting traction on a multiyear quest to disrupt a hearing aid market dominated by five huge firms, also operates a larger, fast-growing microcomponent business that supplies Medtronic and other medical-device makers.

Analyst Jonathan Block, in a recent update titled, “Can You Hear Me Now,” extolled better than projected first-half results for the global designer and maker of tiny, body-worn microelectronic devices.

IntriCon, the best Minnesota public company to own so far in 2018 with a return of over 200 percent, has run from about $6 per share in 2016 to a high of $69.50 per share earlier this month.

“The company has a tremendous amount of momentum in both its medical and hearing businesses,” Block wrote to investors after IntriCon reported second-quarter results. “And we believe the runway for both opportunities reaches beyond 2020.”

Some longtime shareholders have taken profits in IntriCon recently.

Regardless, trading volume has increased and new investors have taken up the slack, even as IntriCon increased shares outstanding by 25 percent.

Heartland Advisors of Milwaukee, which owned 8 percent of IntriCon at the beginning of the year, sold out as the stock soared this year.

IntriCon’s board earlier this month cooled the red-hot stock price, at least for several days, with a secondary offering of 1.725 million shares — an increase of about 25 percent of the shares outstanding. The offering was made at a conservative $55 per share.

The net proceeds of about $90 million, less proceeds from insider stock sales, will pay down debt and help finance expanded manufacturing.

IntriCon dipped on Aug. 16 as low as $56 per share, before rallying to $67-plus last week.

As part of the well-disclosed secondary offering, officers and directors sold about 25 percent of their stock. The insiders were led by CEO Mark Gorder, a 40-year veteran who had never sold a share before this month.

That’s called getting rich very slowly, particularly in today’s fast-money world of public companies and corporate stock buybacks that have enriched many CEOs, regardless of long-term results.

Gorder, 71, sold 177,308 shares. He still owns 450,000, valued at nearly $30 million.

Chief Financial Officer Scott Longval said the board chose to handle the insider selling as part of the announced secondary sale rather than have directors and officers make unannounced sales at market prices. Of the nine insiders who sold into the offering, eight have never sold a share, including Gorder and two other officers, Longval said.

IntriCon boasts a market value in excess of $525 million.

Gorder, an understated electrical engineer and strategist, has been working on IntriCon’s reincarnation for a decade. The company long was a contract maker of precision electronic devices for big medical products manufacturers. It kept the most lucrative part of that business: making sensors, assemblies and accessories for Medtronic’s wireless continuous glucose monitors.

Investors also are betting that Gorder & Co. will deliver on a promising, low-cost hearing aid business that has evolved in recent years thanks to lower-cost technology and U.S. deregulation of the market that permits IntriCon to challenge Starkey Labs, for which IntriCon once made components, and several other big hearing aid manufacturers. IntriCon has introduced “value-based” hearing aids direct to consumers that work well for up to 80 percent of hearing-impaired people about 25 percent of the $2,400 per ear cost through the vertically integrated “legacy channels” of the Big Five.

“There’s six manufacturers in the world that have the technology and manufacturing competencies to manufacture high-quality hearing aids,’’ Longval said. “IntriCon is the only one that has an interest in disrupting the traditional distribution channel with a high-quality lower-cost product.”

Andy Adams, a portfolio manager at Mairs and Power of St. Paul, invested in IntriCon when the stock was trading in the midteens last year.

“We still like the long-term outlook for the company,” Adams said. “Being the exclusive provider on a significant amount of components that goes into manufacturing Medtronic’s closed-loop insulin pump system … is a very big opportunity for a company with still a pretty small market capitalization.

“We are also intrigued to see what the company is able to accomplish as hearing aids shift to over-the-counter sales. There should be a huge growth opportunity as prices drop from $2,000-plus per hearing aid to less than a quarter of that. Volumes will ramp pretty dramatically, it is just a matter of how much share IntriCon is able to take.”

Analysts expect the firm, which has 775 employees, including about 500 in the Twin Cities, to be profitable on revenue expected to grow to $115 million this year. IntriCon is adding about 100 Twin Cities jobs and expanding its manufacturing footprint by about 30 percent.

Gorder, a quipster, has dubbed IntriCon a revamped “overnight success story … that took about 10 years to reinvent.”

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.