3 Takeaways From Solazyme's Earnings

The leading publicly traded industrial biotech company Solazyme (NASDAQ: SZYM  ) announced second-quarter results on Wednesday. The actual financial numbers are not crucially important for a developmental stage company penciled in for ridiculous growth in the years ahead, but several other announcements of importance to investors were disclosed in the company's press release and conference call. Here are three important takeaways for investors to focus on from the closing quarter for the first half of the year.

1. Commercial production updates
The most important thing guiding an investment in Solazyme is commercial production, which is currently being built in Moema, Brazil, with joint-venture partner Bunge (NYSE: BG  ) and in Clinton, Iowa, with fermentation partner Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE: ADM  ) . Simply put, it is the key driving force in the company's growth. Management stated that Moema was on track and on budget, which means that it should undergo commissioning and start-up in the coming months with salable product available in the fourth quarter of 2013. The facility will eventually sport a nameplate capacity of 100,000 metric tons of renewable oils for the joint venture.

Interestingly, management also announced that Clinton was on an accelerated commissioning schedule and should have product for market and development applications in the second half of the year. That will take pressure off of the company's sole commercial supply facility Peoria (see No. 3 below), although investors should know that the date for salable product has not been moved up. In other words, the biorefinery will not contribute effective revenue until early 2014 as originally guided.

2. New oil profile, supply agreement
Adding new products is always a big step for a developmental stage company. Solazyme announced that is has created a high erucic oil profile -- it's second under the Mitsui Joint Development Agreement after myristic oil. The annual market size for both oils currently sits at just 150,000 metric tons, although erucic oil is expected to grow to 320,000 metric tons of demand by 2023.

Erucic acid has applications ranging from lubricants to adhesives. Source: Solazyme second quarter earnings presentation.

That isn't a terribly large market opportunity for the company -- especially with average selling prices of just $2,000 per metric ton -- but it is a great product for Solazyme's early commercial capacity. A multi-year commercial supply agreement with Sasol (NYSE: SSL  ) was also announced on Wednesday, in which the selling price is adjusted to the company's feedstock costs -- a big advantage both initially and in the long run.

3. Nutritional oil commercialization
The company had a minor setback earlier in the quarter when the joint future with Roquette dedicated to developing and manufacturing non-GMO nutritional products was dissolved. A phase-two facility with an annual nameplate capacity of 5,000 metric tons was recently completed by Roquette -- not a big loss for Solazyme -- but a phase-three expansion would have boosted capacity to 50,000 metric tons. Nonetheless, a disagreement over commercial direction prompted Solazyme to commercialize its nutritional oils on its own (or pursue future partners).

In the short term, investors may view this as a disadvantage. The company simply does not have a dedicated facility for nutritional oils at the moment. However, management is refitting its testing facility at Peoria to produce large-scale protein and flour products by the second half of this year. That will likely spur commercial partnership opportunities -- as Peoria has done for its entire invaluable existence. Still, investors should remember that annual capacity at the biorefinery sits at just 1,820 metric tons -- much less than the phase-two facility with Roquette.

Given the high demand for protein products and safer, more nutritional foods, I don't see Solazyme having much trouble finding a newsworthy partner in the next year. I just don't think its recent announcement with Twinlab is anything to get excited about. Much bigger announcements are certainly in store for investors.

Foolish bottom line
I have never denied that Solazyme will grow at an incredible rate or that it will easily be worth more than $700 million several years from now, but I have felt that investors may be able to get in at a better price. That sentiment may have worked months ago, but I am beginning to feel that that opinion may be akin to walking a delicate tightrope, with commercial announcements for Moema and Clinton looming and the share price holding relatively stable at $11 per share. One big slip-up or delay (can the company really keep up with Wall Street expectations?) and the share price will surely fall from its premium, but perhaps that day will never come. Regardless of the situation I plan on opening a position before the end of the year. Will you be joining me? Let me know in the comments section below.

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10/31/2014 4:00 PM
SZYM $7.67 Up +0.74 +10.68%
Solazyme CAPS Rating: ****
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BG $88.65 Up +3.32 +3.89%
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