Altair Still All Air

There's a reason why people like me are highly skeptical about nanotechnology investments. When you listen to conference calls from outfits like Altair Nanotechnologies (Nasdaq: ALTI  ) , there's little more than smoke and promises.

Today, this upstart materials producer was happy to report a 600%-plus increase in revenues for the first fiscal quarter, which is, as I noted elsewhere, not nearly so impressive as it sounds. The $1 million in revenues mostly came from a big licensing fee for RenaZorb from Spectrum Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: SPPI  ) . At the same time, the firm paid a $500,000 consulting fee to get that deal. That was just one reason why the firm turned in a net loss of $2.2 million, 31% worse than last year. At the same time, exercise of options and warrants, plus a private placement, diluted shareholders to the tune of 15%.

Management happily boasted about how these equity sales had boosted the cash position, but CEO Alan Gotcher's observation that the cash would last a number of years "at the current burn rate" sets an ominous tone for investors who might have hoped to see profits in the near future. It doesn't sound like they're anywhere on the horizon.

For this, investors are willing to pay $200 million. But those investors don't include management and insiders. If the company's got such great prospects, why do insiders own so few of its shares?

But I digress.

No guidance was announced, just the usual talk about "expecting" some "deals" and then plenty of exciting-sounding descriptions of technology that may or may not ever pay off for investors. That revolutionary new nano-battery material? A mixed bag. Toshiba's planning to head to market with its own fast-charge battery. As our Rule Breaker nano-guys noted at the time, unless Altair gets its foot in the door there, or with other major battery producers, it's not going to reap this windfall.

The major problem I have with Altair is its PR machine. There's still too much of it, and it's still more hat than cattle. More bun than burger. All talk, very little action.

When it first announced the RenaZorb deal in January, Altair hazarded a guess that the final revenue could be $100 million over the life of the product. When the battery material was announced, Altair promised a partnership with a "major" battery producer. What they later revealed was a deal with a tiny Chinese outfit, greatly exaggerating its size along the way. Talk about hype. The amazing thing is how well this works. The quality (or lack thereof) of many of the questions on the conference call today indicated that very few of the folks following this company have a clear picture of where the company's prospects are, and when.

After neglecting to provide guidance during the call today, CEO Gotcher asked those listening to "Give us a little break. Give us a little time."

I don't know that I'd feel that generous if I held these shares.

Want more substantial analysis of Altair? Try these Fool takes:

Nanotech is a very tough field. That's why ourRule Breakersnewsletter has a dedicated nanoteam. A free trial will get you vetted nanotech picks and tell you more about the lay of the land.

Seth Jayson thinks the odds are better at the casino than in most nanotech stocks. At the time of publication, he had positions in no firm mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.


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