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Why FuelCell Energy and United Airlines Are Hurting the Nasdaq Thursday

By Dan Caplinger - Jan 21, 2021 at 12:45PM

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Find out what's keeping these stocks from participating in a minor rally.

The Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC -1.13%) hit an all-time high on Wednesday, and the popular stock market index did its best to gain ground on Thursday morning. Extending its push into record territory, the Nasdaq was up about 0.2% by 10 a.m. EST.

However, not every Nasdaq stock was able to join in the rally. Two popular stocks, FuelCell Energy (FCEL -1.99%) and United Airlines Holdings (UAL 0.56%), just reported their latest financial results, and both left their shareholders wanting for more. Below, we'll look more closely at what these two companies told investors and what it means for their future performance.

Powering down

Shares of FuelCell Energy were down 3% on Thursday morning, falling further after a 7.5% drop on Wednesday. The hydrogen fuel cell technology specialist's share price had nearly doubled in the first two weeks of the year, but more recently, the stock's ascent has taken a pause.

On their face, FuelCell's numbers looked pretty good. Revenue was up 54% in the fourth quarter compared to the previous year's period. Net losses got cut nearly in half year over year.

However, looking at the full year's performance gives a different picture. Sales in 2020 were just 17% higher than in 2019, and net losses actually widened. Moreover, the company's order backlog decreased slightly, showing that new order activity hasn't jumped the way investors would have liked.

FuelCell CEO Jason Few tried to put the year in a broader perspective, noting that this was the first year of FuelCell's multiyear Powerhouse business strategy. Few pointed to progress on several projects, including the nearly complete power platform at Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut and early-stage construction at the Port of Long Beach for its Toyota (TM -1.63%) hydrogen project.

In the long run, FuelCell hopes to benefit from a recent initiative from the U.S. Department of Energy, with subsidies for helping to build out hydrogen production, transport, and storage assets to increase use of the fuel. The stock will likely remain volatile, but FuelCell Energy is in a promising industry and has the opportunity to shine if it can execute on its business strategy effectively.

United airplane in the sky with clouds behind.

Image source: United Airlines.

Flying in the red

Meanwhile, United Airlines Holdings saw its stock fall almost 6%. No one expected the airline stock's fourth-quarter results to be particularly good, but they'd hoped to see a bit more than what United was able to give them.

The news from United was ugly. Adjusted losses in the fourth quarter came to $2.1 billion, bringing the year's total to $7.7 billion. Operating revenue was down 69% year over year. Total cash burn actually worsened from the third quarter, and even when you look only at what the airline sees as core operational items, United was still going through $19 million per day.

Nor does the airline expect things to get better anytime soon. First-quarter operating revenue is likely to be down 65% to 70% compared to where it was two years ago. Capacity will be down by at least half.

United tried to reassure investors that the long run could bring things back to normal, with the airline intending to focus on recovery throughout 2021. However, it could be 2023 before the adjusted pre-tax operating profit margin exceeds 2019 levels. Even after having raised ample liquidity of more than $26 billion since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, that's a long time for United shareholders to wait.

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Stocks Mentioned

FuelCell Energy, Inc. Stock Quote
FuelCell Energy, Inc.
FCEL
$3.45 (-1.99%) $0.07
NASDAQ Composite Index (Price Return) Stock Quote
NASDAQ Composite Index (Price Return)
^IXIC
$11,671.18 (-1.13%) $-133.82
Toyota Motor Corporation Stock Quote
Toyota Motor Corporation
TM
$158.70 (-1.63%) $-2.63
United Airlines Holdings, Inc. Stock Quote
United Airlines Holdings, Inc.
UAL
$43.51 (0.56%) $0.24

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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