Altair Needs an Altoid
Original Article is here.
Another year, another pile of increasing losses for Altair Nanotechnologies (Nasdaq: ALTI). Revenues at this $200 million company increased 54%, and the company touts that. But let's get real, they're still a paltry $4.3 million.
That means Altair trades at a mind-boggling 47 times revenues. Worse yet, it's still torching money, and at an increasing rate. The net loss was 73% larger than last year's, meaning the company lost more than $17 million for the year. There's no cash flow statement out yet, but given that depreciation and amortization only came to $1.5 million, you can bet the cash burn was nearly as bad as the GAAP loss.
This is an old story, and I've written about the years of broken nano-fairy tales in the past. To me, Altair remains the same underperforming basic-materials company it's been for years. Nothing seems to have changed, except that the newer version of the story includes copious touting of a so-called NanoSafe battery pack being used in an electric SUV, predicted to bring 2007 sales to a range between $16 million and $42 million, according to management. I wouldn't buy that, if I were you. As I've explained in the past, Altair has something of a history of presenting us with fuzzy math.
Not that a record of failed predictions has done much to slow the stock recently. The hype over this electric SUV recently landed Altair in Gene Marcial's "Inside Wall Street" in BusinessWeek, where the micro-write-up quoted a couple of analysts who believe Altair's higher-end story on revenues for next year, one of them even predicting a 2007 profit of $0.08 a share.
I've got little respect for Marcial's puddle-deep tipsheet, but in this case, I think he's done a greater disservice to investors than usual. Maybe Marcial should put down the phone and pick up an SEC filing or two. If he did, he might notice that Altair's gross margins on product sales are still negative. Or that operating expenses (less COGS) ran to $21 million. Why would anyone looking at that data believe that Altair could turn a profit by moving more of its unprofitable product? Why not ask the touting analysts (one of whom works for a firm that's done investment banking for Altair) to explain it?
Finally, Marcial might have thought a bit harder about the commodity nature of the battery biz, and asked himself if Altair's really got a competitive edge. But I suspect Marcial doesn't know enough about Altair to ask such informed questions. Fortunately, there are those of us who do.
Altair's been pushing the nano-battery story for years now, and it has thus far produced nothing but massive losses for investors. Retained "earnings" over the life of this company add up to a loss of $75.6 million. That's a big negative, folks. Oh, and it's also given investors plenty of share dilution, as Altair has had to resort to stock sales in order to gather enough money to feed the cash furnace.
If expensive, money-losing penny stocks are what's hot "Inside Wall Street," make sure you stand outside.
At the time of publication, Seth Jayson had no positions in any company mentioned here. See his latest blog commentary here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.