Not that it will make any difference to those investors who see conspiracies in any and every article that goes against their opinions and investments, but I actually happen to like FuelCellEnergy
While the company reported fiscal fourth-quarter results on Thursday, the usual rundown of revenue and earnings isn't especially relevant here. What matters more, in my opinion at least, are production costs and cash management. On the former, the company still spends almost $3 in costs of goods for every $1 in revenue, but that's better than last year's $3.17. As for cash, the company seems to have improved its cash burn (at least for this quarter), and I'd say the company has about two and a half years' worth of cash left, based upon a running average of the past few quarters.
One of the fundamental challenges for FuelCell is that its products are still more expensive than alternatives like diesel generator sets, even though the company sells them at a loss. Don't give me the pollution argument, either. While some entities might care about pollution (or could be made to care through tax incentives), most companies shopping for off-grid power want it cheap and reliable. "Clean" comes in a distant third, at best.
To their credit, the company continues to make progress on lowering the production costs of its power plants. FuelCell believes it can begin producing a system next year that will cost $4,300/kw to manufacture -- a pretty big step, given that they cost about $10,000/kw to make not too long ago.
What troubles me though is that I'm not sure this progress will really matter. FuelCell focuses on carbonate fuel cells -- a type of fuel cell that's efficient for large-scale use, but not so much so for smaller applications. What's more, plenty of companies, including big boys like DuPont
Maybe efforts to expand the U.S. power base through more coal and nuclear plants won't work. Maybe power reliability will become a bigger issue. Even so, I have a hard time seeing the sort of market potential that would make FuelCell a big winner. I'd be more than happy to be proven wrong, but at this point, I think the risks seem to far outweigh the rewards.
For more Foolish fuel cell fodder:
- Save Energy, Make Money
- Big Oil Doesn't Hate Hydrogen
- Ballard Goes on a Diet
- An Alternative Energy Triple Play
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson owns shares of 3M, but has no financial interest in any other stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).