For some 20 years now, Plug Power (NASDAQ:PLUG) has been one of the most frustrating stocks in the market. Plug Power stock never has been able to drive sustained, consistent upside for its shareholders. Yet PLUG stock repeatedly has teased those investors with big news.
In 2017, it was a supposedly transformative deal with Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN). In late 2013, it was a huge burst in orders after an investment by Air Liquide (OTCMKTS:AIQUY) that moved PLUG stock from close to zero to over $5 in a matter of months. Back in 2009, Plug Power stock touched $12 (on a split-adjusted basis). Back at the height of the dot-com bubble, it cleared $1,000.
All along, Plug Power’s management has promised that the company is close to finally generating positive EBITDAS. (EBITDAS is earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization, and stock-based compensation.) Each time, Plug Power seems to fall short. Simply put, PLUG is a stock that’s supposedly been just a year or two away for two decades.
And yet there are reasons why investors keep investing in Plug Power stock. The company has an impressive customer list. The hydrogen fuel-cell technology that powers its forklifts is proven. Profits have been difficult to come by for PLUG, but its revenue is growing. While PLUG’s two-decade history makes it difficult to aggressively pound the table for Plug Power stock, its story isn’t over quite yet.
Plug Power Stock Spikes Ahead of a Big Year
As broad markets sold off in December, Plug Power stock unsurprisingly fell sharply. PLUG, in fact, lost about 40% of its value in just the first few weeks of that month. A “risk-off” market wanted no part of a money-losing small-cap name like PLUG.
With sentiment towards stocks improving, Plug Power stock has recovered. And the stock last Thursday bounced 19.3%. The reason for the move remains unclear, but a spike in volume to more than three times the 90-day trailing average suggests a large order might have come through.
The bounce comes a couple of weeks before the company’s fourth-quarter earnings report, which is likely to be released during the second week of March. Last month, the company provided a business update, estimating that its top line surged 40% in 2018 and will jump roughly 30% this year.
Perhaps more notably, Plug Power estimated that its EBITDAS would be positive in 2019. That’s a long-held goal of Plug Power. Sustainable profits – even excluding certain items – would allow the company to stop issuing more shares of PLUG stock to fund its operations. And it would perhaps give the market confidence that – finally – Plug Power has found a way to generate sustainable profits.
The Risks Facing Plug Power Stock
That said, PLUG is facing multiple risks that need to be considered. PLUG may seem “cheap” below $2, but it’s anything but cheap. This still is a business that’s valued at around $450 million, including its net debt. That’s almost double the company’s 2019 revenue guidance for a business whose gross margins are still small.
As for profitability, CEO Andy Marsh has been promising break-even EBITDAS – or something close to that – for most of the decade. Investors would be forgiven for being skeptical about the company’s 2019 guidance. PLUG truly is a “show me” story at this point.
From a broader standpoint, the key question is simple: does PLUG really have a viable business? Its revenues have grown sharply lately. Plug Power has some big customers, including Amazon, Walmart (NYSE:WMT) (which also has warrants on PLUG stock), and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG). But the market for forklifts simply may not be large enough. And the company’s promises to move into adjacent areas, such as hydrogen-powered drones, can’t be trusted just yet.
In the meantime, developments in energy technology could undercut Plug Power as it tries to become profitable. Analyst Craig Irwin of Roth Capital noted last month that Walmart could use lithium-ion lift trucks. Bloom Energy (NYSE:BE) operates in a different space, but its natural gas-based technology theoretically could be incorporated into forklifts.
PLUG May Still Deliver a High Reward
It’s not over for PLUG, by any means. And if the company can finally get to where it’s promised to go, Plug Power stock can rally.
But PLUG still has major issues, and the valuation of Plug Power isn’t that cheap, while its execution has been disappointing. Maybe this time is different, it will have to be for PLUG to rise meaningfully.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities mentioned.