Nanophase on Solid Ground

Editor's note: The previous version of this article erroneously gave a P/E ratio for Nanophase despite the company's unprofitability. The article has been revised and updated. We regret the error.

Since it debuted in 1997 as the first publicly traded nanotechnology company, Nanophase's (Nasdaq: NANX  ) stock has rarely exceeded its opening price of $8. Even after yesterday's jump of nearly 10%, it's still trading at $6.35. This long dry spell could be nearing an end, though -- especially if the company can continue to post numbers like last week's. Nanophase's fourth-quarter revenues spiked 52% over the previous year's quarter, and year-over-year revenues vaulted 32% to nearly $9 million.

For some time now investors have been willing to value Nanophase at a premium (in terms of price-to-sales ratio) to other, larger chemical manufacturers such as BASF (NYSE: BF  ) and Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW  ) in the belief that its potential for growth justified this premium.

This long-standing faith in the company's prospects might finally be justified. For one thing, Nanophase has had a long-standing agreement with BASF to supply nanoparticles to a number of its sunscreens, including its latest brand, Z-Cote Max, which is now being distributed globally. Nanophase also supplies nanoparticles to a division of Rohm & Haas (NYSE: ROH  ) for slurries used in polishing semiconductors, and to Altana Chemie for use in thermoplastics, sealants, printing inks, and polyurethane foams. I believe that all of these areas will continue to grow.

More importantly, Nanophase's nanomaterials have a growing range of potential applications in other products. For instance, nanoparticles can increase the abrasion and scratch-resistance of coatings (a $60 billion worldwide market), and they also have a number of uses as environmental catalysts in products such as fuel cells.

I don't know of any companies currently using Nanophase's nanoparticles for these latter applications, but I would encourage investors to keep their eyes open to such possibilities. The commercial marketplace is slowly awaking to the ways in which nanoparticles and nanomaterials can improve even the most mundane products.

Investors interested in nanotechnology, but who are willing to accept a little more risk in return for a greater rate of growth, might consider venture capital firm Harris & Harris (Nasdaq: TINY  ) . Investors simply wanting a broader exposure to the field should look into an investment in the PowerShares Lux Nanotech ETF (AMEX: PXN  ) . But those seeking a solid, down-to-earth nanotech company that has finally found its feet -- and is now poised for healthy growth -- should give Nanophase a look.

Interested in other nanotech foolishness? Check out these articles:

Harris & Harris is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. For more nanotech news and notes, and other updates from the cutting edge of technology, try Rule Breakers free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is the author of two books on nanotechnology, including Investing in Nanotechnology: Think Small, Win Big. He owns stock in Harris & Harris. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.


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