Amyris Has Big Growth Plans (Again). It Will Likely Fail to Meet Them (Again)

The synthetic-biology pioneer has wooed investors with grandiose plans for 2019 and beyond. A look at past promises suggests failure is a more likely outcome.

Maxx Chatsko
Maxx Chatsko
Jan 19, 2019 at 5:58PM
Energy, Materials, and Utilities

Check out the latest Amyris earnings call transcript.

Investors who take a stroll through the recent presentations published by industrial biotech pioneer Amyris (NASDAQ:AMRS) might notice the business appears to be on the cusp of a giant leap forward. Disclosures late last year told investors to expect in the neighborhood of $850 million in total revenue by 2021 and $1.3 billion by 2022. Considering that the business achieved just $61 million in revenue through the first nine months of 2018, that suggests an incredible growth spurt is right around the corner. 

Investors shouldn't get too carried away, however. The most recent projections are unlikely to materialize. Unaddressed technical hurdles aside, the most recent projections simply continue the company's tradition of grossly overpromising and underdelivering while changing the products central to the story line. A careful review of past projections and the actual results that followed demonstrates the dangers of believing the latest too-good-to-be-true numbers.

A businessman with his head in the sand.

Image source: Getty Images.

Overpromise, underdeliver, repeat

Amyris is currently focused on three product areas: cosmetics, flavors and fragrances, and health and wellness. There's a significant opportunity in cosmetics, what the company calls "clean beauty," stemming from sales of its wholly owned cosmetics brand Biossance and supply agreements for certain ingredients to external customers. Cosmetics have proven to be the most profitable opportunity for synthetic biology companies to date, although few are leveraging it as well as Amyris.

The other two product areas are a bit more uncertain. The market for flavors and fragrances simply hasn't panned out quite the way synthetic biology companies (or flavor and fragrance customers) had hoped. Meanwhile, the health and wellness market, primarily comprising food ingredients, has delivered mixed success depending on target products.

That might make investors a little uncomfortable. Last year Amyris shifted its storytelling to focus on an emerging opportunity in the zero-calorie sweetener market that also underpins the company's incredible hockey stick-like growth projections. Consider how the latest expectations stack up to full-year 2017 revenue (the last time the company cleanly separated its revenue by segment), which includes product revenue, licensing revenue, and royalty revenue. 

Product Area

Total Revenue 2017 (Actual)

Total Revenue 2022 (Projected)

Clean beauty

$13 million

~$125 million

Flavors and fragrances

$39 million

~$200 million

Health and wellness

$77 million

~$1 billion

Other

$14 million

N/A

Total

$143 million

~$1.3 billion

Data source: Investor presentation.

Can the business deliver? A long history of overpromising and underdelivering suggests not. Consider how previous statements from management and past guidance targets have stacked up against actual results.

Period

Guidance or Statement

Actual

Q4 2013

Business will achieve positive operating cash flow in 2014 and profitable operations in 2015.

Through Q3 2018, Amyris had not achieved positive operating cash flow or operating income in any period.

Q4 2014

Business will achieve $105 million in total non-GAAP revenue in 2015.

Full-year 2015 GAAP revenue of $34 million.

Q2 2015

Malaria treatment will achieve $50 million to $60 million in annual revenue in three to five years.

Amyris didn't report any revenue from malaria treatments in 2018.

Q3 2015

Polymers, solvents, and industrial lubricants will achieve $20 million in revenue in 2016.

Amyris didn't report any revenue from polymers, solvents, or industrial lubricants in 2018.

Q4 2016

Next year product revenue will more than double from the $25 million achieved in 2016.

Amyris achieved product revenue of $42 million in 2017 (missed guidance by 16%).

Q4 2017

Full-year 2018 revenue will be $185 million to $195 million. EBITDA will be $10 million.

Amyris achieved total revenue of $61 million through the first nine months of 2018. It didn't report EBITDA.

Data sources: Press releases, earnings presentations, quarterly conference call transcripts.


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Amyris hasn't delivered on a single financial guidance issued since at least 2013. Investors shouldn't blindly believe that will change in the next few years. What should investors be watching instead to gauge if the business is actually making progress?

Almost all of the company's growth -- whether it nails projections to 2022 or not -- will come from commercializing products and generating product revenue. Right now, the business is much too reliant on choppy collaboration, licensing, and royalty revenue. Those three sources of revenue have limits, and ideally would begin to fade into the background as products find success in the market. That's been the promise for several years now, but Amyris hasn't been able to derive financial success from malaria treatments, renewable transportation fuels, polymers, lubricants, solvents, direct-to-consumer hand cleaners, or pharmaceutical ingredients -- all of which were at one time the central focus of the company, just as zero-calorie sweeteners are today.

A declining pink arrow on a chart drawn on a chalk board.

Image source: Getty Images.

Pay no attention to the hockey stick charts

This review of past financial projections for the business doesn't even get into other important concerns for investors. Is Amyris taking advantage of new SEC accounting rules and overstating its revenue totals? That was the reason for the stock's epic rise for much of 2018 -- and its stunning collapse in November 2018. How will it fund the completion of a new manufacturing facility for its new zero-calorie sweetener ingredient? Didn't it just sell its only manufacturing facility to reduce expenses?

The main takeaway is simple: At some point, individual investors need to begin to hold Amyris management accountable. Investors cannot afford to blindly take management at its word and shouldn't give much weight to the hockey stick growth projections in presentations. This stock doesn't belong in your portfolio.