What happened

Stock markets are selling off en masse again today -- but not all stocks.

Defying the downturn, shares of fuel cell pioneer FuelCell Energy (FCEL 4.20%) popped after the company reported better-than-expected sales this morning, and remain up 16.2% as of 12:30 p.m. EDT.

Rising red stock chart being drawn on a yellow background

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

So what sent FuelCell shares hying off in a direction different from where everyone else is going? In a word: Earnings.

As the company announced this morning, earnings for the fiscal first quarter 2020 were even worse -- a $0.20-per-share loss -- than the $0.08-per-share loss that Wall Street analysts had predicted. Sales for the quarter, however, were $16.3 million, and thus a bit better than the $14.9 million that analysts were expecting.

On a day like today, with investors grasping for any straw of "good" news they could get, that revenue beat apparently qualified.

Now what

But was FuelCell's news actually "good?" No and yes.

On the one hand, FuelCell's $16.3 million in sales was down more than 8% from last year's first quarter (but sales were up sequentially from Q4).

On the other hand, though, gross margins turned positive (20.2%) and operating costs fell by half from last year. As a result, the company's quarterly operating loss contracted by 80% to just $3.1 million. (Management explained away the net loss by noting that "the fair value of the liability associated with the warrants issued to the lenders under our credit agreement with Orion Energy Partners Investment Agent" subtracted from GAAP net profits.)

With these numbers in hand, FuelCell CEO Jason Few was able to argue that FuelCell is now enjoying a "turnaround," despite the slide in year-over-year sales. He did not, however, offer any specific guidance on what to expect in the current quarter, or the current year.