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Edited Transcript of PLUG earnings conference call or presentation 8-Nov-18 3:00pm GMT

Q3 2018 Plug Power Inc Earnings Call

Latham Dec 17, 2018 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Plug Power Inc earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, November 8, 2018 at 3:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Andrew J. Marsh

Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director

* Paul B. Middleton

Plug Power Inc. - Senior VP & CFO

* Teal Vivacqua

Plug Power Inc. - Director of Marketing Communications

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Conference Call Participants

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* Amit Dayal

Rodman & Renshaw Research - Former MD & Senior Technology Analyst

* Carter William Driscoll

B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst

* Chip Moore

Canaccord Genuity Limited, Research Division - Senior Associate

* Colin William Rusch

Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst

* Eric Andrew Stine

Craig-Hallum Capital Group LLC, Research Division - Senior Research Analyst

* Jeffrey David Osborne

Cowen and Company, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Greetings, and welcome to the Plug Power Third Quarter 2018 Conference Call. (Operator Instructions) As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

It is now my pleasure to introduce your host, Teal Vivacqua, Director of Marketing Communications. Teal, please go ahead.

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Teal Vivacqua, Plug Power Inc. - Director of Marketing Communications [2]

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Thank you. Good morning, and welcome to the Plug Power 2018 Third Quarter Earnings Call. This call will include forward-looking statements, including but not limited to statements about our expectations regarding full year 2018 net revenue and gross revenue; achieving EBITDA breakeven; achieving positive EBITDA and cash flow; achieving profitability in the service business; the impact of new ProGen stack technology; the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle; the impact of new lease accounting standards; the impact of Amazon and Walmart relationships; the expansion of applications for ProGen, including opportunities in the on-road electric vehicle market.

We intend these forward-looking statements to be covered by the safe harbor provisions for forward-looking statements contained in Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

We believe that it is important to communicate our future expectations to investors. However, investors are cautioned to not unduly rely on forward-looking statements because they involve risks and uncertainties, and actual results may differ materially from those discussed as a result of various factors, including but not limited to the risks and uncertainties discussed under item 1A Risk Factors in our annual report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2017, as well as our reports we file from time to time with the SEC. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the day on which the statements are made, and we do not undertake or intend to update any forward-looking statements after this call.

At this point, I would like to turn the call over to Plug Power's CEO, Andy Marsh.

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [3]

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Thank you, Teal, and good morning, everyone. The investor letter posted on Plug Power's website provides a thoughtful overview of the past quarter. Some key highlights are: the company had a strong top line with gross revenue of over $55 million. We had the best quarter in the history of the company for adjusted gross margins and EBITDAS.

In the fourth quarter, we expect continual financial improvement reaching $175 million to $190 million in gross revenue for the year, and Plug Power remains committed to achieving EBITDAS breakeven in the second half of 2018.

Promise for customers and investors is being realized in our material handling segment. We are producing high-quality products that offer value to operators in warehouses and manufacturing facilities. Our financial are improving as we deploy more and more units. Revenue growth and quality improvements will continue to drive profitability for Plug Power. The continued improvements in our financial is a result of technology enhancements and increasing scale that allows us to drive down our cost. We are using the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence to improve quality and performance. By vertically integrating key technologies into our products, we're able to both grow and reduce costs. Our new metal plate stack design and internally developed MEAs are excellent examples of how we are leveraging technology and vertical integration to improve performance, reliability and cost of our products.

A distinguishing feature of Plug Power is that we've always been market-driven and have closely linked the market to our internal activities. We also think big, and building extensive relationships with Amazon and Walmart are prime examples.

We are pursuing other electric vehicle markets beyond material handling, leveraging our years of learning, cost structure and technology leadership. Plug Power is focused on meaningful deals in these markets with committed partners and a clearer understanding of the value chain for delivering holistic solutions. As I tell my team and board, we have an enormous opportunity in material handling and we must first capitalize on our success in this market.

But let us not forget, with modular designs like our ProGen engine, leading technologies and the right partnerships, we are well positioned for growth in a multitude of EV markets beyond material handling.

Paul and I are now available for your questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) Our first question is coming from Eric Stine from Craig-Hallum.

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Eric Andrew Stine, Craig-Hallum Capital Group LLC, Research Division - Senior Research Analyst [2]

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So just thinking about the fourth quarter relative to the guidance. Well, so first, revenues. I mean, it's a pretty, pretty wide range there with half of the quarter to go and also working towards that EBITDAS positive goal. Maybe you could just talk about the puts and takes, both from a revenue perspective and EBITDAS perspective, to get to those goals in the fourth quarter.

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [3]

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So Eric, I'll take the range, and I'll let Paul talk about EBITDAS. We've become much better at making sure we meet market expectations. And I wanted to make sure that when keeping the range as broad as we have, that there is no chance we'll miss our numbers, quite honestly. And that -- just keeping an eye on the unexpected. That being said, we're quite confident that we'll be in the middle to upper end of that range. So we're -- we feel comfortable. We just don't want a surprise if a customer comes in the middle of December say, "Hey, we want to push out into the first quarter." We don't want to be viewed as amiss when we're really having a very, very strong year. Paul, do you want to comment on EBITDAS?

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Paul B. Middleton, Plug Power Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [4]

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Yes. I guess, what I would say is you've seen it in the third quarter, the continued trend of positive momentum there. And what favors Plug quite well is when we do sell more particular products because there's a very favorable mix benefit there. So to Andy's point of meeting the mid to upper end of that range in the fourth quarter, that bodes quite well for us. And coupled with that is the traction we continue to make. There's been a tremendous amount of effort this year on service, in particular, stacks. And life extending in a lot of those programs are starting to have and continue to yield big benefits, and we start to see those pay even more dividend as we go into Q4. So a lot of good progress, and we feel pretty comfortable with our performance and our progression, and we look forward to meeting those expectations as we roll through Q4.

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Eric Andrew Stine, Craig-Hallum Capital Group LLC, Research Division - Senior Research Analyst [5]

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Got it. That's helpful. And maybe just turning to 2019, I mean, I know you're not -- other than EBITDAS, not giving a range for revenues. But maybe just from a high level, talk about 2019. And I'm also curious, given Walmart, given Amazon, given some of your other customers, what type of visibility, as you sit here today, you have into what 2019 looks like?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [6]

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Sure. So Eric, as we've done every year for the past 3 or 4 is that, in early February, we'll provide guidance to the analysts in the market. I'll just say this, that we've looked at the analyst models for next year. We think those projections are realistic, and that, additionally, I would kind of highlight that we end most years with about 70% to 75% of the shipping and backlog known for the coming year, and I don't expect anything different for 2019.

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Operator [7]

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Your next question is coming from Colin Rusch from Oppenheimer.

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Colin William Rusch, Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [8]

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Guys, can you talk a little bit about the cadence of cost reduction as you move into the new stacks and the new manufacturing facility? Is it something that we're going to see kind of fits and starts in terms of the cost reduction? Or is going to be a steady cadence?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [9]

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That's actually a good question, Colin. And when we look at the stacks, we are -- and this, we're talking about, I assume, Colin, the middle plate stack we've been discussing.

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Colin William Rusch, Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [10]

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Yes.

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [11]

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Look, I would expect the cost to open initially at the same range as our present stacks. And that, as we have about 2,000 units to void in the field, I would expect that the cost will achieve that 25% cost reduction on stacks, and it represents about 25% of the cost of our products. Now I would expect most of that to start literally being kind of flat the first half of the year and start literally declining over the second half of next year and say, into mid-first quarter of 2020.

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Colin William Rusch, Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [12]

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Okay, that's helpful. Yes. And then in terms of some of these PP agreements, as you look out at the technology and having a little bit longer history, at what point do you feel like you're going to be able to go out and find better finance terms and refi some of these assets? Is that kind of a 12-month projection? Or are we talking more like 24, 36 months before you're going to be able to just get better terms, now that you got a little bit longer in operating history and a little bit more stable balance sheet?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [13]

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So Colin, I'm going to answer the first part, then I'm going to hand it off to Paul. Primarily and almost exclusively, the only PPA agreements have been with Walmart. And the Walmart deals, because -- over the past year, have actually been financed at relatively low rates because of Walmart's support. So those rates are close to our customer's lease rates. And so the deals that are older, certainly are higher rates. But the present deals and anything that's been done over the past 12 months have been actually at attractive rates. Historically, I think, is really where some of the issues lie. You want to comment on that, Paul?

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Paul B. Middleton, Plug Power Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [14]

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Yes. I think just to add some color, there's 3 fundamental things that we're seeing as one, and we've been pretty public about it. But as part of the new platform agreement that we signed last year with Walmart, they've -- in the new structure, they're now providing a guarantee for portions of our financing. So that's helped tremendously on our cost of capital on our terms. Second thing is now that ITC is back, that obviously bodes quite well for us in those agreements. And then the third thing is now that we've had, I would just call it, tremendous success in deployments over the last few years, this is the first time this year that we're seeing financial institutions give credit to -- in the financing transactions and residual values because the banking industry is very conservative. And as you can imagine, prior to 2014, it wasn't really an easy way for them to kind of approach those estimates for residual values. And so we're seeing them provide those estimates and ranges to our customers, and we're seeing now the institutions we're working with on the PPA financing as well start to put those estimates in. So the combination of those have already made a fairly large step function in our financing transactions, and I expect that to continue to get better and actually expect next year to be competitive because now you're seeing a lot of institutions start to protest and say, "Hey, this is a big track of volume," and the structure that make sense for them and very interesting yields. And so we're actually getting a lot of inbound interest to participate. So I don't know it will be another step function, but you'll certainly see a continued progression as we go forward over the next year.

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Operator [15]

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Our next question today is coming from Amit Dayal from Rodman & Renshaw.

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Amit Dayal, Rodman & Renshaw Research - Former MD & Senior Technology Analyst [16]

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Good to see you guys marching steadily towards profitability. On those lines, once the service business gets to profitability, can it stay profitable consistently? Or should we expect some quarter variances as you make some progress over the...

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [17]

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I'll let Paul comment. I'll just say from a technology product point of view, it's all about lifetimes of stacks and being able to reduce the workforce size. As those stacks become better and better, the trends we see with the new stacks that we're putting in the field today clearly indicates that we can reach that -- we can reach profitability. And I guess, I'll let just Paul talk about what he would expect post mid-next year.

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Paul B. Middleton, Plug Power Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [18]

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Yes. I think the fundamental answer to your question is it will continue to go north and get better. And we see that every quarter. And as Andy mentioned, with the improvement of stack pipe and reduction of average parts cost and increased leverage on labor, it continues to get better. I think you do see seasonality with customers where you have peak periods and greater usage, and accounting rules today makes us amortize revenues for those service lines -- more straight lines. You do see ebbs and flows, but I think what you're going to see is a fundamental progression north where it continues to get better. And we clearly see a path to get that business to 30% gross margin, and I think you're going to see that -- you're going to see traction in that direction over the next 12 to 18 months, and we're going to be continuing to demonstrate that progress as we move forward.

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Amit Dayal, Rodman & Renshaw Research - Former MD & Senior Technology Analyst [19]

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Got it. Strength in revenues and margins you're seeing in the second half of 2018, is all this from -- contribution coming from Amazon and Walmart? Or is it spread out more widely for you?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [20]

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More widely.

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Amit Dayal, Rodman & Renshaw Research - Former MD & Senior Technology Analyst [21]

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Okay, got it. And then just one last one for me. In regards to the GenFuel hydrogen stations, so what level of utilization, if that is the right way to look at it, are these stations seeing? And are these in the U.S. so far? Are you putting any of these stations up in Europe as well in the future?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [22]

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Sure. The utilization -- and let me just make sure I answer -- the utilization is a typical distribution center with 200, 250 units. They're used continuously during the day. And so we are -- with that -- we are the largest user of liquid hydrogen in the world, and most of our sites are using somewhere between 150 kilograms and 300 kilograms a day, which is equivalent to 300 to 600 gallons of gasoline. So they are used very heavily. I think it's -- when you have 180 million hours on the product, that's a lot of usage. And I think we probably are at the range of where we've done 14 million to 15 million fuelings. So it's pretty big number. I don't think anyone comes close.

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Amit Dayal, Rodman & Renshaw Research - Former MD & Senior Technology Analyst [23]

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I'm just trying to see how much more you can extract in terms of the leverage, if that's the right word, from these existing stations. I think we might have to build more of this...

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [24]

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Sure, sure, Amit. I mean, those stations are going to last 20 years.

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Operator [25]

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(Operator Instructions) Our next question is coming from Chip Moore from Canaccord Genuity.

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Chip Moore, Canaccord Genuity Limited, Research Division - Senior Associate [26]

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Maybe you can give us a bit of an update on the U.S. pipeline in the core material handling market. Right, we've had the ITC in place for a little bit. I think last quarter, you talked about an initial deployment at least through the new retailer with a lot of distribution centers. How's that going? And how's the rest of the pipeline in the U.S.?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [27]

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Pipeline is strong, Chip. As I mentioned before, we'll be talking more about that in early February. But the pipeline is strong, and we expect to be -- the growth rate to continue for Plug Power. As far as the next -- the next big customer, why I look at it, our customers actually been involved in a large effort to redefine their distribution business, which is both good and bad because it slowed down our deployments, but it's good in the fact that a lot of the rethinking of these companies is being driven by what Walmart and Amazon have done. And if you look at Walmart today, the number that just stuns me is that -- if you look at -- we're probably moving 15% of the food in the country at the moment now for retail use. And I think that people who are in that business, they recognize that Walmart and Amazon wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't reducing their cost and improving their performance. So we're -- as you may kind of gather by this call, we're kind of bullish about the North America funnel as well as the European funnel.

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Chip Moore, Canaccord Genuity Limited, Research Division - Senior Associate [28]

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Yes. Can you give us an update on Europe, whether it's Carrefour or others?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [29]

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Yes. So yes, it is folks like Carrefour or auto companies. And I know that we'll be at a grand opening coming up, and that -- I think our sales team has told me they believe, in the next 18 months, our revenue in Europe will increase by a factor of 4 or 5.

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Chip Moore, Canaccord Genuity Limited, Research Division - Senior Associate [30]

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That's great. And just one follow-up. When you talked about visibility, that 70% to 75%, is that mostly Walmart and Amazon in that at this point?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [31]

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It's a good percentage. There are others. I mean, Walmart and Amazon usually dominates, but it will be a mix. So if I think about the mix, it will probably be -- like our business today is probably 40% of that funnel will be Amazon and Walmart activity.

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Chip Moore, Canaccord Genuity Limited, Research Division - Senior Associate [32]

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Yes. Okay. Helpful. And maybe just one last one for me on the new metal stack. Can you talk about potential for that given the better power density in the EV fleet space? Is that something you'll be looking at?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [33]

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Oh, absolutely. And we probably have more going on there than we've really talked about because I don't want to lose focus on the opportunities in material handling. But we do believe there is a value proposition, especially when we look at items like delivery vans. And we've -- this is what we believe the material handling, it's -- a lot of this starts with hydrogen and there are places like Germany, U.K., California hydrogen that is becoming available. And we're -- we have active business development and sales activities going on in all those areas. And like -- and this is really kind of fundamental to Plug. I'm not interested in projects. I'm interested in dealing with companies that can move the ball like Amazon and Walmart rapidly for us, and those are the kind of discussions we're having. I'm not interested in doing 10 one-off projects. I'm interested in doing 2 or 3 big projects that can move the ball, and that's the kind of folks we're engaging with and talking to. Quite honestly, we do best when we're working with Fortune 500-type customers.

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Paul B. Middleton, Plug Power Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [34]

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But the metal stack is a key, Chip.

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Operator [35]

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Our next question is coming from Carter Driscoll from B. Riley FBR.

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Carter William Driscoll, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [36]

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So first question is China. And I know it's not a focus and you've done a good job of recalibrating expectations, but they suddenly changed the rules in terms of subsidization and on-road vehicle time to qualify for subsidy. Has that had any impact on your outlook for China or discussions with your partnerships?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [37]

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Sure. Carter, we've been, as you know, deliberate about China and there has been 2 reasons. One is that IP is important to us. We spend a lot of time developing the products we've had. And I think if you go back and listen to our call 2 quarters ago, we highlight the fact, both the regulation front and some of the challenges with hydrogen, that from our activity over there, that we recognize were challenges. We've continued that dialogue with major companies in mobility and logistic industry, and we do believe -- and let me -- just because we've been deliberate, I think China is one of the real markets for fuel cells. And I believe that what you'll start seeing is a ramp probably into 2020, mid-2020 time frame, and I think really accelerating in 2022 when the Olympics come. When I talk with potential Chinese partners, they're very interested in making sure hydrogen fuel cells are a showcase for that Olympics. So we'll make a deal if and when it make sense to Plug Power, but we continue to engage and continue to understand. We're just not going to do something that doesn't help us grow -- continue to grow this business.

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Carter William Driscoll, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [38]

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Okay. Thinking back to Europe because it tends to get short shrift. When you talk about -- and I know you don't generally quantify the geographic contribution. But 4 to 5 acts, could we kind of put that in the framework of what that would mean numerically? And is that potentially...

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [39]

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$35 million range, Carter.

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Carter William Driscoll, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [40]

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$35 million range, got it. Okay. I mean, could you develop a -- maybe not same size as Amazon and Walmart, but a deep relationship like you'd started with Carrefour? I mean, could there be other retailers out there that you could have a similar type of anchor customer in Europe by, say, the end of '19 or early 2020?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [41]

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I would call both retail and auto manufacturing. And when I say auto manufacturing, I mean in their manufacturing facilities. So the answer to that question is yes.

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Carter William Driscoll, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [42]

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Okay. Excellent.

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [43]

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And I wouldn't discount on-road vehicles either in Europe.

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Carter William Driscoll, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [44]

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Even though they probably have even greater challenges for fueling infrastructure? Or...

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [45]

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Not really. This is one of the items that -- if you look at Germany, Germany is actually -- by 2023, plans to have 400 hydrogen fueling stations available, and they're probably running a year ahead of schedule. So -- and if you look at Germany -- when I look at it, I think it's the most -- I actually think Germany may be as interesting as China because there's government commitment, station -- you can -- I understand you can actually get in a hydrogen fuel cell car today and drive across Germany. I don't think there's very few places you could do that. And so I wouldn't discount the opportunities for fuel cell providers there.

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Carter William Driscoll, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [46]

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Okay. And point of clarification, Paul. So if -- just over $1 million loss in EBITDAS this quarter. So obviously you're talking about at least generating that in the fourth quarter to get to a second half breakeven, correct?

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Paul B. Middleton, Plug Power Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [47]

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Yes, I think that's our -- in our range. Yes.

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Carter William Driscoll, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [48]

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Got it. Okay. Number of fueling stations domestically is you're up to 3. Any plans to -- you could share with us in terms of targets, either end of this quarter or end of next year? And I think one of the other analysts is asking about kind of economics, utilization rates. Does that become a positive contributor on an individual basis or collectively at some point in your future?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [49]

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Okay. So let me be clear, Carter. We -- when we talk about fueling stations, we're talking about industrial fueling stations and we've built over 80. I think the 3 you're referring to are kind of the hybrid systems that we developed, which helps reduce the cost of hydrogen while providing a certain level of hydrogen backup during emergency. So there are 3 sites that are hybrid sites that we've developed, which use performers on site to provide the base hydrogen load and liquid hydrogen that provide peaks and backups. So we believe when we move to the hybrid systems, especially for sites that have long-term commitments, I mean that the cost of hydrogen reduces and our profitability for hydrogen will increase.

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Carter William Driscoll, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [50]

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Right. So I guess what I was trying to get is that, is there a number of hybrid stations that will help pull that line item toward positive breakeven or even positive number over some time frame?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [51]

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No, I would think that somewhere -- as we deploy 20% to 25% hybrid stations, it helps. We do it.

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Carter William Driscoll, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [52]

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Got it. Okay. Yes. The work you've done with FedEx, obviously a lot of run time with the hybrid vehicle with you and Workhorse in it. Maybe just an update on pull-through with FedEx, some of the other last mile competition and the opportunity at least domestically for on-road?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [53]

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FedEx is going quite well. I think the biggest challenge -- and we will be doing more -- we expect to be doing more at FedEx in next year, probably most likely in a place like California where the fueling stations exist on the road today. I think the biggest challenge in North America is the financial depth of people who are in the EV chassis business. And our focus is also looking for, I'll say, larger partners with deeper balance sheets that can help accelerate this market. And I think that's probably the bigger challenge in the market. Obviously, hydrogen in the U.S. outside of California where you could go to tether fleets like we've done in material handling. But I think the partnership needs to be with someone with real financial scale. And I think, Carter, you know this market. I think the integrators in the market today lack that capability, and so I think the structures have to be a little bit different to make sure there's somebody with money and service capability at the table. And that probably to me is probably the biggest North American challenge.

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Carter William Driscoll, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [54]

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The last question for me is...

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [55]

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Interesting, less of a challenge probably in Europe.

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Carter William Driscoll, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [56]

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That is interesting. Well, better stake commitment, obviously. On the PPA gross profit, is there -- I mean, obviously, it's a blend of the older and less profitable PPAs you've signed, and it takes time to get that to break even. Is Walmart going to continue on the same type of growth trajectory? Obviously, it's more mature. Is there a realistic time frame we can see that, the -- at least breakeven on the gross line? Could it be by the end of '19, first half of '20? Just trying to get a sense because that's one that is still a bit of a hindrance to your profitability on gross line.

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Paul B. Middleton, Plug Power Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [57]

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Yes. I think, I mean we're -- as we've mentioned and you just referenced, we have a series of older deals that have to run their course. So that's a couple years. The new deals coming in will bode well. The part of the cost that goes into that line is the service component that -- to service those specific sites where -- and as we've seen in service to direct customers, that cost continues to come down. So there's a positive trend on that line as well. So I think, holistically, you're going to -- we will -- we have this year and we will continue to see progression in that line item, but it's probably 2020 or early before -- just to break even and moves into that positive range. The other factor that will -- and it is a drag in that regard, but it's a small percentage of the overall volume, and we'll continue to be more and more diluted as we sell and we grow the business and grow more direct sales, which are much higher product mix. And so it will have less and less impact as we go forward.

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Carter William Driscoll, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [58]

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Okay. And maybe just could you summarize at a high level the accounting impacts in the balance sheet just for the slight pleats that you referenced to in the letter?

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Paul B. Middleton, Plug Power Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [59]

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Yes. I mean the nut of it is in the adoption of the new lease standard, the biggest change, quite frankly, is, and I'm sure you'll see this with other companies as well as they adopt, is that you basically recognize an asset and a liability on your balance sheet for the present value of those operating lease payments in the future and the asset is deemed a right of use to those leases. And so your operating lease expense becomes the amortization of that right-to-use asset with the interest component as you amortize that over time, but it's a little over $30 million when you look at the collection of those leases. The majority of those obviously are associated with our PPA financings in the past and where we've had sale-leaseback treatment, and those are deemed operating leases. And so we've always disclosed it in our footnotes with minimum lease payments and PPA payments over time, but now the accounting standard has to throw that up on your balance sheet as well.

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Operator [60]

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Our next question today is coming from Jeff Osborne from Cowen and Company.

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Jeffrey David Osborne, Cowen and Company, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [61]

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I had a couple on my end and maybe related to that last question. But I noticed in the letter that you called out that GenDrive under -- units under service and PPA actually declined for, I think, the first time ever to $17,300 from $18,000. Is that because of the accounting change? Or is -- were there any facility closures? I just want to understand what was going on with that.

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Paul B. Middleton, Plug Power Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [62]

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Yes, it's part of the accounting and it's also just ebbs and flows when you look at new sites plus older ones coming off. So it's a combination. But overall, that business continues to grow.

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Jeffrey David Osborne, Cowen and Company, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [63]

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Got it. And then can you just touch on the fuels segment? That seemed to have a pretty poor margin relative to prior quarters.

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Paul B. Middleton, Plug Power Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [64]

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Well, I think, actually, if you look at it in contrast to prior -- last year and prior periods, it's pretty positive in terms of its trend. I think -- and we may have talked about last quarter, we had for the first time, I think maybe ever, that we broke even at slightly positive trends on that. The design of that model is such that it's not -- it's in that single digit, maybe not even up to 5% kind of gross margin because it's a pass-through. And the efforts that we've been putting on the efficiencies and kind of making sure that we can continue to maximize the value prop there in terms of what we recognize as well as our customers has really driven that improvement over the years. But I think in the next 12 to 24 months, I expect that to continue to be kind of a breakeven, just maybe slightly positive business. And some of the -- a number of the new hydrogen strategies, including things like the generation system that we referenced we put in this quarter, those continue to promulgate and we do more as well as some of the other things that we're rolling out. In the longer term, I think you start to see some real traction in that margin line.

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Jeffrey David Osborne, Cowen and Company, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [65]

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Got it. And then can you just touch on -- I think in the -- you're continuing to guide on gross revenue. I think in the past, shareholder letters, you had a table talking about the delta there, but were there any accounting changes that you're factoring in as it relates to the Amazon warrants there? And then maybe related to that, what's your expectation for Amazon versus other customers in the fourth quarter? Just given we're heading into the holiday season, I would have expected that both Amazon and Walmart might slow down. But maybe just touch on what you're seeing with the mix of customers as it relates to warrants and just in general, given the holiday impact in your business.

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [66]

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I would say this, Jeff, and we got to be sensitive being that exact. I -- there are shipments going to both, which are reflective of a typical quarter, like the third quarter. Okay, so done.

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Jeffrey David Osborne, Cowen and Company, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [67]

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I was going to the accounting difference between gross and net, and not a big step-up of that delta, I think it was about $2.1 million of impact this quarter, down from just under $4 million last quarter. So somewhere in between those 2 quarters, is that fair?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [68]

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I think that's fair.

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Jeffrey David Osborne, Cowen and Company, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [69]

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Okay. And then can you just touch on the number of sites you've done for both in terms of the backlog?

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Paul B. Middleton, Plug Power Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [70]

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I talked about Walmart, Walmart is close to 40 sites. And Amazon, last year, we did 10 sites and we're at the same clip for this year.

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Jeffrey David Osborne, Cowen and Company, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [71]

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Yes. And then any noticeable trends on field reliability that you can share?

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [72]

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I think that's an area where, over the past 6 months, it's really -- I think we've got the equation right. The units, I can say, it's -- some of our larger customer sites, the uptime of the units are beyond 99.5%. The number of down units is probably 1/3 of what you would find with a forklift truck. So I got to tell you, Jeff, one of -- I've had about 4 goals this year that we've been driving the business on, and one of the big key goals was to get the quality level to the point that not only is important to customers, but shareholders. And I think we got the equation. So I'm excited.

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Operator [73]

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Thank you. We've reached the end of our question-and-answer session. I'd like to turn the floor back over to management for any further or closing comments.

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Andrew J. Marsh, Plug Power Inc. - President, CEO & Director [74]

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Thank you for taking the time today, and we're looking forward to a strong fourth quarter and talking to you in February about 2019. So thank you, everyone.

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Operator [75]

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Thank you. That does conclude today's teleconference. You may disconnect your lines at this time, and have a wonderful day. We thank you for your participation today.