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Solazyme Inc. Has a Lot to Prove in 2016

By Travis Hoium – Mar 11, 2016 at 10:20AM

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Can this high-potential company turn its operations around this year?

Solazyme Inc. (TVIA) has a lot of questions to answer on Monday, March 14, when it releases fourth-quarter 2015 earnings results. The company hasn't met its own growth goals lately and a transition into high-value products is taking a lot longer than investors would like. That's resulted in stagnant revenue and massive losses, something that has to turn around soon or the stock will continue to slide.

When earnings are released, there are three things investors should keep an eye on.

SZYM Chart

SZYM data by YCharts.

Is personal care revenue growing?
The one place where Solazyme is getting some traction is in personal care products. Revenues for Algenist, a cosmetic product, were up 30% sequentially in the third quarter and now has a distribution footprint of 2,500 stores in 22 countries. Management is trying to leverage that success to launch more products, like a color-correcting line early this year and a moisturizer product as well.  

Higher-volume sales should also be coming down the pipeline via partnerships with Unilever, BASF, Natura, to name a few. But these partnerships may not begin to generate a significant amount of revenue for years. Any progress on turning big-name partnerships into revenue would help prove the company's ability to create value.

These personal care products are the kind of high value, high margin products that investors want to see coming out of Solazyme, but they're building on such a small base that personal care is not yet helping the entire company generate profits. Bottom line: management has a lot of questions to answer about when personal care revenue will ramp up.

Image source: Solazyme.

How are food products faring?
Personal care has been a strategy for Solazyme for a while now, but the food business is a more recent addition. It launched Thrive culinary algae oil in 2015 and was testing in 18 stores as of the end of the third quarter.

Solazyme has also started developing products to be sold as food ingredients. Enjoy Life Foods and Mondelez were pointed to as customers last quarter, but this is a nascent business that's yet to get off its feet.

Like personal care, management has to show progress in turning these partnerships and interesting new products into actual sales. 

Show me the money
Progress in direct product sales and partnerships is key, and they really drive to the core problem at Solazyme, which is cash. At the end of the third quarter, the company had $117.2 million in cash and $201.8 million in long-term debt. The problem is that it had already reported a net non-GAAP loss of $92.2 million in just the first three quarters of the year. Cash levels are low and they're being burned rapidly. 

Management has attempted to cut costs and focus on higher-margin products, but if there isn't enough progress on both fronts, the company could run into some serious problems before the year is out.

The theme of next week's earnings report has to be progress. Sales of personal care products, sales in food products, and cost-cutting measures all have to show significant progress for the stock to do well long term. Time is running out.

Travis Hoium has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Solazyme. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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