With the recent release of Alcoa's earnings, earnings season has officially begun. Even though Plug Power's (NASDAQ:PLUG) earnings report is still weeks away, it's never too early to talk about earnings expectations. And if there's one company whose earnings need to be put under the microscope, it's Plug Power. The company's management has consistently over-promised and under-delivered for many years. The failure to execute has cost Plug Power investors significant mental and monetary capital and almost put the company out of business a few short months ago.
But as sometimes happens in bull markets, Plug Power had an astonishing run of good luck with contract wins and won a new lease on life after raising $116 million amid the euphoria. Now that it has a second chance, investors are very focused on management's execution abilities. So, what numbers are investors expecting from Plug Power?
Analyst estimates and management guidance
Well, for the second quarter, analysts expect Plug Power to lose $0.04 per share on revenue of $16.95 million.
Since management guided for positive EBITDA for the full year of 2014, many investors expect break-even or higher EBITDA for the quarter as well.
Since Plug Power is a growth company, growth metrics are also very important.
Investors in particular would like to see Plug Power win more contract deals and add to its $80 million in bookings, as significant new bookings are a sign of market validation for Plug Power's product. For Plug Power's valuation to make any sense, the company would need to increase its bookings/revenue several-fold in the coming years. In fact, it would need to take in 10 orders the size of Wal-Mart's just to come close to living up to its current valuation, and that's a tall order. So a good quarter would be for the company to win significantly more contracts.
Secondly, investors would like to see continued product cost reductions. In an investor presentation, Plug Power said it averaged product cost reductions of 10% year over year since 2010. Since Plug Power now has more orders and more capital to improve efficiency, investors would like to see the product cost reductions continue. If those cost reductions continue, Plug Power's margins should improve.
Finally, investors would like to see Plug Power successfully integrate ReliOn into its operations. If Plug Power successfully integrates ReliOn fuel cell stocks into its fuel cell systems, it should be able to capture more value and depend less on fuel cell stacks made by Ballard Power Systems, Inc (NASDAQ:BLDP).
The bottom line
Financial markets are sometimes dangerously focused on the short term. In many cases, this focus is unwarranted. It sometimes takes multiple quarters or even several years to turn a company around. One quarter's numbers rarely do a company justice.
But in Plug Power's case, the company has had a decade to prove itself. It let its investors down. Yet given the renewable energy tax credit and the significant publicity the company has received over the past half year, Plug Power currently has significant tailwinds. If Plug Power cannot succeed in these favorable conditions, it will not be able to succeed in tougher conditions. Basically Plug Power's next couple quarters are a litmus test on whether management can execute.
Given that Plug Power is significantly overvalued by almost all metrics, long-term investors should wait and see whether management actually executes in the coming quarters before considering making an investment. If the spate of contract wins is just the beginning of a bigger wave and the company manages to turn those contracts into profits, there might be a bright future for Plug Power after all.