Investing in the future requires a great degree of "intestinal fortitude," as our high-school gym teacher used to refer to it. Though FuelCell Energy (NASDAQ:FCEL) is taking baby steps forward, it takes gutsy investors to hang on to a firm with a market cap approaching $700 million and trailing sales of $37 million.

The company released first-quarter numbers today, and fans of simple investing metaphors will be happy to know that the glass is half empty and half full. On the full side, FuelCell made a smart move acquiring Global Thermoelectric, which expands the range of FuelCell's power technology. FuelCell continues to fill orders for interesting applications, including plants to power wastewater treatment facilities, which can run on the local methane. In other good news, fourth-quarter revenues were up 29% over the same period last year.

On the empty side: Half of revenue came in as a result of the recent acquisition. Without that increase, sales would have sagged 28%. The red ink at the bottom line totaled $0.59 per share, a bigger loss than last year's $0.41. However, management pointed out that, disregarding the November acquisition of Global Thermoelectric, the loss would have been a narrower $0.33 per share. (Of course, if acquisitions become a regular thing, investors might want to rewrite these as normal costs in their mental accounting.)

Of course, you can't sustain operating losses and buy complimentary companies without some cash or stock to swap, so FuelCell pulled a few million shares off the paper-towel dispenser (Remember that Simpson's Internet-stock bit?), diluting the existing share pool by 21%.

While fuel cell stocks are off their sky-high valuations at the turn of the millennium (what stocks aren't?), FuelCell is nearly a triple today off the one-year low. And there's plenty of competition, including other small outfits like Plug Power (NASDAQ:PLUG) and Ballard Power (NASDAQ:BLDP), though their recent results were nothing to write home about. Possibly more dangerous is the fact that the smell of money has awakened sleeping giants, among them Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) and General Motor (NYSE:GM).

Given the increasing competition and continued cash burn, FuelCell investors would be wise to view the stock as a calculated speculation and place their chips accordingly.

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Fool contributor Seth Jayson would love a fancy PEM fuel-cell stack for his home and car. He has no stake in any company mentioned above. View his Fool profile here.