4 Quotes From ExOne's Conference Call That Investors Shouldn't Miss

If you're following The ExOne Company (NASDAQ: XONE  ) , you've likely already read the industrial-focused 3-D printing company's first-quarter 2014 earnings release, as well as perhaps an article or two summarizing and analyzing the results, which were released last Wednesday. You can read my article here.

Briefly, ExOne significantly missed both revenue and earnings estimates, reiterated 2014 revenue guidance, and notched down its 2014 gross margin target. My purpose here isn't to rehash the results, but to supplement the information you've likely read with some additional color from ExOne's conference call. There's a wealth of information an investor can glean from tuning in to these calls. While there were too many valuable nuggets shared during the call to cover them all, here are four that you should know about:

1. The revenue miss was largely due to the timing shift of a large single order
This quote is from President and Chief Operating Officer David Burns' prepared remarks:

There is a large single order that we expected to have realized in Q1. We haven't lost the order. It is a question of timing. It will be the largest single order that we've had as a company, over $2 million, and we had a shift from Q1 to Q2 for that order.

I included mention of this $2 million-plus order in my article about ExOne's results because it's important for investors to understand how "lumpy" quarterly revenue can be when we're dealing with small companies that sell very high priced products. One order can be the difference between meeting (or coming close to, in this case) analysts' revenue estimates or significantly missing them. That's why it's important for investors to take a longer view, not a quarter-by-quarter one. It's also why ExOne and other similar companies provide only annual revenue guidance.

ExOne's Q1 revenue decreased 7.6% from the previous year's period to $7.3 million, missing analysts' estimates of $9.9 million. The $7.3 million was split as follows: $4.9 million generated from the company's production service center segment and $2.4 million from sales of three 3-D printers. If the $2 million-plus order had been booked in the first quarter, ExOne's revenue would have been $9.3 million-plus, which isn't that far from the consensus of $9.9 million. We don't know what that "single order" from the Russian customer is comprised of, as that information wasn't disclosed.

2. There are potentially lucrative opportunities with Sikorsky Aircraft
This quote is from CEO Kent Rockwell's prepared remarks:

This particular program (Sikorsky S-97 Raider program) is very, very applicable to our development of our ExCast strategy. Sikorsky came to us sometime ago and identified that our technology was the only technology that they can see that could get them to where they could get the kind of finished product for some very complex casting parts. And we have worked with them at great length. And it's costs a lot of money, it costs us a lot of money in this quarter, which will be described later. But Sikorsky has identified for us very large sums of revenues that can come from this. This program award is due to come early next spring I believe, and there is a test flight due I think in the last quarter of this year.

I explained the ExCast strategy in my article about the company's Q1 results. Briefly, it's a vertically integrated strategy that involves ExOne assisting the customer from design through to production of the final component. So pre- and post-3-D printing processes are included, some of which are now subcontracted out. ExOne plans to bring some of these processes in-house or make acquisitions to acquire them.

Sikorsky's view of ExOne's tech, as expressed by Rockwell, is obviously a big positive. We'll have to wait and see if ExOne is awarded a contract from Sikorsky next spring. As to the costs, CFO Brian Smith estimated that the Sikorsky development work negatively affected ExOne's gross margin by about 5%. At another point in the call, Rockwell said that most of the costs associated with this work are the behind the company, but that there will likely be some costs in Q2, too.

3. Inconel alloy 625 will be commercialized in June
This quote is from Burns' prepared remarks:

[T]he rollout of Inconel is a critical moment for us as a company. For the first time with the single metal alloy, we've achieved greater than 99% density. It has been publicly and privately debated about whether the binder jetting technology was going to be capable of yielding this kind of result in direct printing. And we're here to say that the answer is yes, we have done it.

Aerospace, chemical and the energy markets are all critical markets for us, as we rollout Inconel. But much more importantly, it is a validation of binder jetting as a process for efficient, cost effective, direct part manufacturing. And we're excited about the next round of materials that we're going to release.

Burns' comment doesn't need much explanation. Density is a key factor when we're talking about many metal components, most especially ones that will be used in critical end uses.

At a later point in the call, an analyst asked whether ExOne's M-Flex machines will have the same volumetric output rate when they're used to print inconel as they do now when printing other metals. She noted that if that were the case, they'd be the fastest on the market. (I can't speak to that, as I don't know if that's accurate or not, as there is constant innovation going on in the 3-D printing space. But I'll be looking into it.) Burns replied "yes" to this question.

4. Four pre-orders were received for next-gen sand printers for late 2014
This quote is from a response by Burns to an analyst's question:

We've got one customer that has pre-ordered four of these machines and the design is not even done yet.

Obviously, the fact that the company has received pre-orders for a system that isn't even designed yet is a positive. Of course, we're not sure what a "pre-order" entails, as the deposit could be considerable or nominal. Nonetheless, if an existing customer has pre-ordered four of the next-gen sand printers, it surely means that customer is quite satisfied with the work done by ExOne's current printers.

Foolish final thoughts
If one only looked at the numbers, ExOne's quarterly report would likely appear worst than the reality, due to the revenue shifting discussed in number one. Additionally, there were a fair number of positives shared during the call, some of which I discussed here. Investors should be keeping their eyes on progress in the ExCast strategy, how much the roll out of inconel boosts the sales of M-Flex machines (the company's goal is to sell 18 this year), and how well the next-gen sand printers do in the marketplace. 

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