Fuel-cell specialist Plug Power (NASDAQ:PLUG) has truly captured the market’s imagination. After suffering a horrific loss last year — which is not an uncommon occurrence, by the way — the PLUG stock price has so far skyrocketed in 2019, more than doubling since the January opener
Of course, the million-dollar question is: will this last? History suggests it won’t. In fact, history suggests a hearty heck no! Plug Power stock is a much older investment than some younger investors may realize. Shares nearly hit $1,500 at one point during the tech boom and bubble of the early 2000s.
Today, PLUG stock trades for under $3. A fancy latte (two pumps, please) from Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) costs more than a single-share stake in Plug Power.
That’s part of the reason why my InvestorPlace colleague Will Healy urged readers to stay away from Plug Power stock. Financially, the underlying organization has shown very little substance to support its technological potential. And while the latter is compelling from a techie’s perspective, better options, such as Bloom Energy (NYSE:BE) exist.
That’s a very reasonable take. But on the other hand, another one of my InvestorPlace colleagues, Vince Martin, proposed a possible bull case. Acknowledging the ugliness in the financials, Martin references a common criticism about Plug Power stock: the lack of meaningful catalysts.
Here, Martin offers the underappreciated contrarian view: Plug Power actually does have meaningful catalysts. For one, the company secured a major deal with Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) two years ago. Later, stalwarts Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) jumped onboard. Plug is also testing fuel-cell powered forklifts with FedEx (NYSE:FDX).
That should provide confidence toward PLUG stock, right?
Fundamentals Don’t Align with PLUG Stock
If we were talking about any other company or perhaps any other industry, I would consider jumping on the opportunity. However, I’m hesitant. A major reason why is that the fundamentals don’t really align with the technicals.
For instance, Martin mentioned that the Amazon deal doubled the PLUG stock price in 2017. Yet after a year and a half, those gains evaporated. During that time, PLUG made other deals which in hindsight only temporarily supported shares.
Here’s another example to chew on. Just recently, the fuel-cell specialist partnered with German electric-vehicle manufacturer StreetScooter. Under the terms of their agreement, StreetScooter will provide international courier DHL with 100 hydrogen fuel-cell powered trucks. Intriguingly, Plug Power will supply the engines in this deal.
Unfortunately, Plug Power stock only received a temporary boost. It closed out a very modest session on Thursday and yesterday closed in the same place it was the day before the deal was announced.
So what’s going on? The DHL contract, along with partnerships with blue-chip companies should take shares decisively higher. But in this case, the technical sentiment is greatly outpacing fundamental realities.
Let’s go back to the FedEx deal. A year ago, Plug Power delivered its first fuel-cell electric van to FedEx. Since then, the courier has logged 17,500 miles using PLUG’s EV engine.
That seems very light. According to delivery-truck drivers, they average well over 100 miles a day. Traveling on business days throughout a one-year period, I’d expect FedEx to log significantly more than 20,000 miles.
If I’m reading this data correctly, it appears that EVs just aren’t as effective in large-scale transportation. The beauty about fossil-fueled technology is that you gas up and go. With EVs, it takes time to charge them. This practical barrier has prevented PLUG stock from taking off and sustaining that momentum.
Plug Power Stock is a Gambler’s Play
Indeed, the risk to the Plug Power stock price is the same as any other EV-related investment: the core market might be overrated as the technology stands now.
Don’t take my word for it. Instead, read the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s report on hybrid-electric delivery vans versus the conventional diesel variety. In summary, hybrid EV vans only performed marginally better than diesel trucks. Plus, in some metrics like reliability, the diesel trucks were superior.
But here’s the kicker: diesel trucks are relatively cheap and the current mainstream infrastructure supports them.
In other words, Plug Power stock might be a transformative investment. But right now, it’s too ahead of its time. The fundamentals need to catch up. But the problem is that the fundamentals might lag for a very long time.
It’s no wonder, then, that PLUG stock trades so wildly despite some positive headlines. As such, this is a gambler’s play, and I’m just not that interested in gambling right now.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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