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Is Eastman Kodak Company a Buy?

By Nicholas Rossolillo - Oct 11, 2018 at 9:49AM

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Even buzz about a new cryptocurrency isn’t enough to save the stock of this struggling photography and imaging supplier.

At the beginning of 2018, shares of Eastman Kodak (KODK 0.00%) surged from $3 to over $13 on news released at the Consumer Electronics Show that the company was working on its own cryptocurrency: KODAKCoin. Optimism has since faded as the coin offering and supporting platform have been postponed until summer 2019, and focus on the company's struggling financial results has resumed. As a result, the stock is back to plumbing new lows.

Management continues to talk up its progress with new products and services, but investors looking for a turnaround story should be leery. The fact is, Kodak is still a long ways off from turning a corner -- KODAKCoin or not.

2018: Not as good as hoped

Since emerging from bankruptcy in 2013, Kodak's bumpy ride has continued. The company's struggles largely have been blamed on its slow adoption of digital photography technology, and living in the shadow of tech giants is no easy task. Since its comeback in 2013, revenue has been in steady decline -- falling from just over $2 billion a year to management's current forecast for $1.5 to $1.6 billion for full-year 2018.

KODK Chart

Data by YCharts.

While the company technically shows a profit -- trailing-12-month price to earnings are a mere 2.8 -- Kodak has negative free cash flow over the same time period with an $80 million loss. Kodak is making progress in some areas, like the environmentally friendly Sonora process-free printing plates business, but overall revenue is still in decline.

The company is also readying the sale of its Flexographic Printing Division, which employs a printing process for use with plastics, paper, metallic films, and cellophane. It's a smaller segment with revenue of just $150 million over the last year, but it's also one of Kodak's most profitable segments as it generated $33 million in operational EBITDA over the same period. Kodak plans on using any proceeds from a deal to pay down some of its $400 million in debt. That sounds like a good move, but ditching a profitable business venture to pay for past indiscretions is a losing long-term strategy.

Meanwhile, the company has had other issues this year. While revenue guidance has been stable so far, operating profit expectations have taken a hit from higher aluminum prices affecting its print plate businesses. At the onset of 2018, Kodak projected operating EBITDA of $60 to $70 million. That figure has since been cut to $55 to $60 million, putting further pressure on Kodak's attempts to get back to black.

A close-up picture of a camera's aperture shutter.

Image source: Getty Images.

Cryptocurrency to the rescue?

KODAKCoin, which will be entering a special beta testing phase by the end of 2018, could be a key to Kodak eventually getting back on track. It's a risky venture, though, and investors looking for signs of new shoots of growth should consider the headwinds facing Kodak's new digital venture in the cryptocurrency realm.

First, the special beta testing of KODAKCoin and the supporting KODAKOne platform is invitation only to select agencies and customers. The actual cryptocurrency, which the company expects to launch by June of 2019, will only be available to accredited investors -- someone with net worth of at least $1 million, single income of at least $200,000, or joint income of $300,000 if married. Photographers and other members of the KODAKOne platform who aren't accredited can earn KODAKCoin by accepting licensing payments from their work in KODAKCoin, selling services on the KODAKOne network, or participating in other activities on the imaging supplier's cryptocurrency platform.

Monetizing such a system will be difficult, and in the meantime, Kodak's other business lines continue to struggle. With the company's most concrete plan at the moment consisting of selling off assets to reduce debt, it's hard to see a reason to buy the stock at this time.

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