Universal Display Isn't Universal -- Yet

The OLED revolution in video display and lighting technology is coming, and it's bringing us thinner, lighter, and more efficient screens and light sources. It's also turning a couple of industries on their heads. But none of that is happening today.

OLED research house Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL  ) reported first-quarter results last week, with a net loss of $4.19 million, or $0.12 per share, on $2.72 million in revenue. Free cash flow came in at negative $3.59 million.

(Figures in Thousands)

Q2 2007

Q3 2007

Q4 2007

Q1 2008 (Latest)

Revenue

$2,315

$3,077

$2,899

$2,176

Net Income

($5,175)

($2,961)

($3,256)

($4,193)

Free Cash Flow

($3,724)

($2,917)

($2,211)

($3,591)

Cash + Short-Term Investments

$84,243

$83,664

$83,660

$82,165

Data from Universal's press release and Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

I know how bad it sounds: The company is burning more cash than it brings in on the top line of the income statement, and never you mind GAAP profits. The only bright spot, going strictly by the numbers, is the strong liquid position on the balance sheet, with cash and short-term investments standing at more than $80 million. But the negativity may go away if you get to know the whole story.

Universal Display is still in its infancy as a commercial business venture. OLED itself is not quite ready for prime time yet -- there are still issues with the life span of blue-light elements, and large-scale manufacturing hasn't started. The biggest OLED maker in the world right now is Samsung SDI (OTC BB: SSDIF.PK), a lesser light in the well-known Samsung group that generates only $4.9 billion in annual revenues -- and most of that amount comes from LCD and plasma screens, not OLED.

Universal does have long-term research or supply deals with plenty of household names, including Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) and DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) . The company is facing competition from Eastman Kodak (NYSE: EK  ) and Sumitomo Chemical subsidiary Cambridge Displays, but Universal's patented solutions seem uniquely suited for applications like flexible screens, or even screens that can be made with a special inkjet-like printing process. That "Print Screen" button on your keyboard suddenly took on a new meaning, didn't it?

So there's a bright future ahead for this little Rule Breaker, once the big boys start to pump out OLED television sets and lightbulb replacements in serious volume. There was no exciting news of that sort in Universal's release this time, so we'll just have to wait a bit longer.

The revolution is coming, and Universal Display will profit handsomely when it does.

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