Amazon may help Plug Power accelerate profitability
Andy Marsh, left, CEO of Plug Power welcomes Senator Charles E. Schumer during Senator Schumer's tour of the company on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Latham, N.Y. (Paul Buckowski / Times Union)
After signing a hydrogen fuel cell sales deal with Amazon that could reach $600 million in value over several years, Plug Power of Latham said plans to become profitable by next year is a better bet than ever.
While many of Plug Power's customers finance their purchases over many years, Amazon is paying in cash, meaning the revenue can be booked as soon as the orders are shipped.
Under a deal that began last year but wasn't disclosed until Wednesday, Plug Power is supplying fuel cells for fork lifts at Amazon warehouses and distribution centers across the country.
Marsh believes Plug Power will be able to book $70 million in sales from Amazon by the end of the year. That compares to $85.9 million in total revenue booked in 2016 for all of its customers.
Plug Power said last month during a conference call that it expected $130 million in revenue this year, a number that may rise with the Amazon deal.
"The final details of this deal have really only been struck in the past week, and so, you know, I certainly gave this some consideration when providing guidance (in March) because I knew where we were, but I would expect on our first quarter update call that (CFO Paul Middleton) and I will talk about guidance going forward," Plug Power CEO Andy Marsh said during a conference call Wednesday.
That revenue increase could tip the company's financials toward profitability, something that has eluded Plug Power since its inception.
Stock analysts watch such guidance carefully to calculate a company's stock value. Shares of Plug Power rose 73 percent Wednesday after the Amazon deal was disclosed.
Marsh has been saying he expects to reach the profit milestone in 2018, but the Amazon deal could even shorten that timeline.
"We're pleased that this offering will allow the company to achieve its goals to reach profitability mid-next year, and this, hopefully, will be an accelerator," Marsh said Wednesday.
Plug Power has long been a tech stock darling that often disappoints, as renewable energy has been one of the most volatile sectors over the past two decades.
Marsh, in his ninth year as Plug Power's leader, has narrowed its focus to providing fuel cells to the fork lift and material handling market.
Plug Power has become the market leader in this segment since then, getting clients such as Wegmans, Walmart, BMW and now Amazon to power fork lift trucks in their warehouses and distribution centers, a move that has steadily increased revenue enough that profitability is within reach.
At the same time, Marsh has looked to the future of electric vehicles, especially in China, a move that has pushed out profitability as the company's research and sales costs have risen, a long-term move that is designed to pay off in the long run.
For instance, in 2016, Plug Power had $85.9 million in revenue and $3.9 million in gross profit after the cost of sales and service.
Research and overhead was $55.4 million for 2016, resulting in a net loss of $57.5 million for the year.
The Amazon deal, which also includes warrants that Amazon can use to purchase nearly 20 percent of Plug Power's stock and a technology collaboration agreement, could tip that balance.
And this is after Congress let a 30 percent investment tax credit on fuel cells expire.
"The deal has been structured on favorable terms to Plug Power," Marsh said. "And I think this is really important to investors. Amazon will be purchasing the equipment - no financing, cash up front. This deal, I think, demonstrates that the company, quite honestly, has been able to overcome what we believe has been two overhangs to our stock. One is it shows that we can be successful in a post investment tax credit world in selling our value proposition. And two, there is no financing overhang to this deal. And of course, the bigger opportunity is in technology collaboration."