Something really interesting has happened to Plug Power (NASDAQ:PLUG). And it’s not just the fact that the PLUG stock price has doubled so far in 2019. More interestingly, investors actually seem to have started to trust Plug Power stock.
After all, Plug Power’s earnings earlier this month missed analysts’ average estimates badly. And while the miss was driven in part by accounting vagaries, even aside from those, the quarter looked relatively weak.
After 20 years on the public markets, and a wealth of disappointment, one might think the PLUG stock price would plunge on that type of news. That’s doubly true, given how important 2019 is to Plug Power stock. Plug Power’s management has promised positive adjusted EBITDA this year, a long-awaited (emphasis on both “long” and “awaited”) target for Plug Power. It hardly looked like Plug Power was off to a good start.
PLUG stock price did drop briefly, but it rebounded quickly. In fact, it now trades where it did before the report. Investors are giving PLUG the benefit of the doubt, which history suggests is dangerous. Will this time finally be different?
The Case Against Plug Power Stock
The case against PLUG at the moment is reasonably simple: this is the ultimate “show-me” stock, and it hasn’t shown enough. Its Q4 results were positive in one way, but incredible in another: as Bloomberg noted, the company generated positive adjusted EBITDA for the first time in 20 years.
In, those two decades Plug Power stock has repeatedly disappointed investors. On a split-adjusted basis, the PLUG stock price touched $1,000 during the dot-com bubble. It hit just above $7 in 2011, and $6 in 2014. A major deal with Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) caused PLUG stock price to double in 2017, but the gains were gone within 18 months.
Given PLUG’s history, there seems at least a significant risk that the 100%+ rise in PLUG stock price this year is another head fake. The company is targeting positive adjusted EBITDA this year, but even its operating cash flow will likely come in negative. And while PLUG stock price might seem cheap at about $2.50, Plug Power stock isn’t cheap. The stock trades at 2.5 times its billings guidance for this year and about two times analysts’ consensus revenue estimates for next year.
It is, as I wrote even when I recommended PLUG stock, the ultimate “this time is different” story. Given that, as the old adage goes, those are the four most dangerous words in investing. investors should be cautious at the very least.
The Case for PLUG
But maybe, just maybe, this time is different. Amazon isn’t the only key customer: Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) are on board as well. Plug Power CEO Andy Marsh has teased additional announcements this year, and backed his predictions by personally buying Plug Power stock.
A pilot test with FedEx (NYSE:FDX) means Plug Power could expand beyond forklifts. Its debt has been refinanced, and Plug Power has roughly $100 million in cash on its balance sheet.
Meanwhile, PLUG has started to deliver on its promises. Marsh predicted positive adjusted EBITDA for the second half of 2018, and Plug Power did reach that goal. Its 2019 guidance was well above expectations, helping to bring about the recent rally of Plug Power stock.
And PLUG’s underlying business model has some value. There’s a reason investors have been upbeat about its outlook, in various forms, for twenty years. Hydrogen fuel cells offer real promise , and the backing from Amazon and Walmart (both of whom own warrants on Plug Power stock) doesn’t hurt as well.
History might not be favorable for Plug Power stock, but at this point it’s just that: history. A stock is based on the net present value of its future cash flow. Plug’s future looks much brighter than it has in quite a while.
Be Careful Out There
Going forward, the run of PLUG looks like it may have gone too far, too fast. There is a lot riding on its Q2 results; investors are not going to tolerate another miss. And as seen in December, Plug Power stock can fall quickly if macro worries arise.
Still, PLUG has an intriguing story, and if Plug Power can deliver, PLUG stock price can rise by a large amount. Investors are starting to believe this time is different; if they’re right, the rally will continue.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities.
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