It's not easy being a government supplier these days. Small-drone manufacturer AeroVironment (NASDAQ: AVAV ) is finding that out – a terrible fiscal fourth quarter has to give investors pause about the company's growth.
Fourth-quarter revenue was down 51% to $54.1 million and the company lost $0.8 million, or $0.04 per share, in the quarter. What's maybe more alarming is that revenue is expected to be flat next year at $230 million-$250 million from $240.2 million in fiscal 2013.
With the war in Afghanistan winding down and sequestration cuts hitting the Defense Department's budget, the company's largest segment, unmanned aircraft systems, saw revenue fall 56% in the fourth quarter.
EVs don't save the day
Unmanned aircraft generate a majority of AeroVironment's revenue but electric-vehicle charging stations are seen as a huge opportunity for the company. Despite the success of Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA ) in selling electric vehicles the division actually saw a sales decrease in the fourth quarter.
A big problem is that Tesla is the only EV manufacturer to sell a significant number of vehicles and it uses a proprietary charging protocol for high-power charges. That's one reason the company is building its own "Supercharger" network, and a reason AeroVironment isn't selling industry standard charging stations at a fast clip.
What AeroVironment needs is a big increase in EV sales from Ford, Nissan, and GM before it will see demand pick up. The success of Tesla doesn't really help AeroVironment at all.
The good news for AeroVironment is that long-term trends are still in its favor. Electric-vehicle sales are growing, and as the technology improves, sales will follow. The Defense Department isn't spending like crazy anymore, but unmanned aircraft are still the wave of the future. The small aircraft AeroVironment uses could even be used in commercial or consumer applications when the market demands it.
Management expects $0.35-$0.50 in earnings next year, and the company has a chance to grow well beyond that in the future. The stock isn't cheap at $20 per share, but if it continues to fall then it might be worth picking up as a growth stock for the future.
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