What happened

Shares of alternative energy pioneer FuelCell Energy (FCEL -2.46%) were in freefall Thursday morning, sliding by 17% through 11:45 a.m. EDT after it reported a sales beat -- but an earnings miss.

Analysts had predicted that the hydrogen fuel cell company would lose $0.06 per share on $16 million in sales for its fiscal 2020 third quarter, which ended July 31. As it turned out, FuelCell beat the revenue goal, reporting $18.7 million in sales, but its loss was $0.07 per share.  

Glowing red stock chart arrow trending down

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Worse, even that revenue "beat" was kind of underwhelming. In fiscal 2019's Q3, FuelCell delivered sales of $22.7 million -- so the $18.7 million it collected last quarter actually represented an 18% year-over-year decline.  

And that's actually the good news, relatively speaking, because FuelCell's bottom-line loss of $15.3 million was way worse -- nearly triple what it lost a year ago. The only reason the loss per share declined from $0.18 to $0.07 was because FuelCell has diluted its shareholders significantly in the interim, resulting in about more 50% more shares outstanding this year than last.

Oh, and pre-tax operating losses jumped 10-fold, to $10.8 million.

Now what

CEO Jason Few tried to put an upbeat spin on the results, saying he is "excited about our progress toward fulfilling our purpose of enabling a world empowered by clean energy." But investors clearly weren't as enthused.

And based on these numbers, I can't really blame them.