* 1st quarter EPS $3.50 vs Street view $3.14
* Revenue up 28 pct to $495 million
* Sees 2012 rev growth 19-21 pct; procedures up 25-27 pct
* Intuitive shares rise 5.7 percent
By Bill Berkrot
April 17 (Reuters) - Intuitive Surgical Inc reported higher-than-expected first-quarter profit on Tuesday on increased sales of its high-priced da Vinci surgical robots and a rise in procedures using the systems and its shares rose nearly 6 percent.
Based on the first quarter performance, the company slightly raised its full-year forecast for revenue and procedure growth.
Intuitive now sees 2012 revenue growing by 19 percent to 21 percent, up from its previous forecast of 17 percent to 19 percent. It expects procedures to grow by 25 percent to 27 percent, up from a prior view of 24 to 26 percent.
"After a quarter like this, there was no way they were going to maintain their guidance," said ThinkEquity analyst Spencer Nam.
"The guidance is very conservative and remains so even though they raised it a little bit," said Michael Matson, an analyst for Mizuho Securities.
The one disappointment for the quarter was sales of da Vinci systems in Europe, where only 14 of the 140 sold in the period were purchased and which the company called below historic trends.
"European systems sales reflect the challenging economic environment," Chief Executive Gary Guthart told analysts on a conference call.
The company said it believes capital spending by European hospitals "will remain pressured for some time to come."
Intuitive posted a net profit of $144 million, or $3.50 per share, compared with a profit of $104 million, or $2.59 per share, a year ago. That exceeded analysts' average expectations by 36 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue for the quarter jumped 28 percent to $495 million, topping Wall Street estimates of $464.1 million.
"It was a good quarter," said Matson. "Everyone expected them to beat, but that said, it was a bigger beat than I expected. Some of it was from a lower tax rate, but even if you take that out, they still beat by a lot."
Instruments and accessories sales rose 32 percent to $208 million, while procedures grew 29 percent, primarily driven by growth in U.S. gynecological surgeries using da Vinci systems.
While the da Vinci systems are primarily used in delicate prostate and gynecological procedures, the company said it was seeing solid growth in other general surgeries, particularly for colon and rectal cancer surgery. Use of the surgical robots has been associated with shorter hospital stays, reduced bleeding and fewer complications.
The 140 da Vinci systems sold in the quarter at an average price of $1.47 million each was up from 120 a year ago, but a decline from the 152 systems sold in the prior quarter.
Of those sold, 80 went to repeat customers and 46 were trade-ins of older models.
Some 105 da Vinci systems were sold in the United States in the quarter and 7 were sold in Japan, which is expected to become a significant market for Intuitive.
Earlier this month, the company celebrated its first reimbursement approval in Japan for da Vinci prostatectomies. Going forward, Intuitive said reimbursement decisions for additional procedures will be pursued by Japanese surgical societies.
"Things are looking up in Japan, but we haven't seen the full potential from that country yet. There is more upside there," said Nam.
With new products and system upgrades gaining traction, Nam said "it's early to say, but we may be seeing the second renaissance of da Vinci here."
Intuitive Surgical shares rose to $577 in after hours trading from a Nasdaq close at $545.53. The company's high flying shares were already up more than 17 percent for the year and up about 56 percent since early October.