Altair: You're On the Clock

Altair Nanotechnologies (Nasdaq: ALTI  ) has a long and not-so-proud history of churning out dubious press releases. To a large degree, this behavior has ceased since Alan Gotcher became CEO back in 2005. In the past few days, however, the company has released two press announcements that could be read two very different ways.

The first announced that Altair had received a milestone payment from Elanco Animal Health, a division of Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY  ) . Reaching the milestone suggests that Altair has at least met the minimal terms of the agreement; as such, that sounds like good news.

However, management did not tell investors which milestone was met, nor how much money it received from the payment. These two facts could rightly leave investors suspicious on two fronts. Either the milestone wasn't that significant, or alternatively, it wasn't worth much more than the paper on which the press release was drafted. Time will tell which of those scenarios is closer to the truth.

The second and more significant press release announced that the company had raised an additional $23 million by offering 9.3 million shares at $2.70 apiece. This news, too, can be read a couple of different ways.

It might be good news to some, because it suggests that the company is on schedule to begin mass-producing its latest nanotechnology-related product -- its lithium-ion battery technology -- and needs money to ramp up for that purpose. For others, it could easily be viewed as the latest in a long line of management's attempts to bilk unsuspecting investors with the promise of a breakthrough technology.

Where do I land? Count me in the skeptical camp on both matters. Altair has been promising results for five years now, with nothing to show for it. Furthermore, for a company with paltry revenue, its stock -- even in its newly diluted state -- remains ridiculously expensive.

This might not be fair to Gotcher, and it could be that I am unfairly making him pay for the sins of previous management. That said, he now runs the company, and he's on the clock to deliver results.

The $23 million cash infusion probably ensures that Altair will survive at least another two years. But if Gotcher wants the company to make it past 2008, he'll be need to begin delivering press releases that either document substantial milestone payments (in real dollars) or explain how the company is delivering real results for investors -- rather than simply asking them for more money.

Want to see other Altair-related foolishness? Check out these articles:

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David Gardner unearthed a nanotech firm with a far more respectable track record for his cutting-edge Motley Fool Rule Breakersportfolio. To learn its identity, and see David and his team's entire portfolio of high-tech stocks with explosive growth potential, try Rule Breakers free for 30 days.

Fool contributorJack Uldrichis the author of two books on nanotechnology. He does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Eli Lilly is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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