🌋FuelCell Sucks Wind (Long Distressed Power)🌋
“Amazon is not too big to fail… In fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail,” Jeff Bezos said back in November. He makes a salient point: even once-uber-successful companies are subject to disruption and questions of sustainability over long periods of time. This is an industry-agnostic notion.
We can debate the definition of “successful” but it seems fair to say a company that once had a market capitalization of $1.5b falls into that category. One such company that fits that bill, FuelCell Energy Inc. ($FCEL), is now a shell of its former self, teetering on the brink of chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Connecticut-based FCEL designs, manufactures, installs, operates and services “ultra-clean” efficient and reliable stationary full cell power plants to an end market of commercial, industrial, government and utility customers. It’s mission is a worthy one: to deliver clean innovative power solutions, utilizing environmentally responsible fuel cells. There’s just one problem with all of that: it doesn’t make money. And it hasn’t since its fiscal year ended October 1997.
The company — not the first to experience distress in the power sector in recent times — is getting battered on all sides. Wind and solar have stolen a lot of the company’s mojo. Competitors such as the controversial Bloom Energy Corp. ($BE) have taken market share even while it, too, has seen its market cap shrink from over $4b to just over $1b. New order volume has been elusive.
All of this shows in the company’s numbers. Revenues have declined from $190mm in 2013 to $90mm in 2018. LTM revenue is only ~$70mm. The company’s Quick Ratio and Current Ratio — both measures of the company’s ability to cover short-term financial obligations — are .6x and 1.3x respectively, versus industry comps of 1.1x and 1.5x. And, thanks to these numbers, capital sources may no longer be available.
The company’s historical financial channels included sales of equity (including a NUMBER of preferred equity issuances), corporate and project level debt financing, and local or state government loans or grants. Here is a snapshot of the company’s debt sitch:
In the light of this debt, $41.6mm of debt at the corporate level, and the company’s declining revenue predicament, the company is focused on liquidity. Per the company’s most recent 10K:
The Company’s future liquidity will be dependent on obtaining a combination of increased order and contract volumes, increased cash flows from the Company’s generation and service portfolios and cost reductions necessary to achieve profitable operations.
To grow its generation portfolio, the Company will invest in developing and building turn-key fuel cell projects which will be owned by the Company and classified as project assets on the balance sheet. This strategy requires liquidity and is expected to continue to have increasing liquidity requirements as project sizes increase.
Which, you might appreciate, creates a bit of a circularity problem. The company needs to spend more to make more which means cash flow in the near term is highly unlikely.
Consequently, the company just sh*tcanned 135 people to save approximately $11.5mm. To the extent those employees held stock, well:
Bloomberg recently noted:
NRG, the largest independent U.S. power producer, has also been a key backer. It owned 1.4 million shares in the company, based on the latest holding data compiled by Bloomberg, and provided a $40 million revolving credit facility to help FuelCell build power plants. But that credit line may expire this year, and without another large investor willing to throw more money at the company's technology, FuelCell faces a grim future, [an analyst] said.
“Their only hope,” he said, “is to find someone who wants to finance this.”
We find it highly unlikely that any financing occurs outside of bankruptcy court. Notwithstanding a recently-announced new purchase power agreement with the City of San Bernardino Municipal Water Department, we suspect we’ll be seeing this thing in Delaware sometime soon.
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☁︎More Dark Clouds (Short Debt-Fueled Acquisition Sprees)☁︎
In “⛈A Dark "Cloud" on the Horizon⛈,” we noted, in the context of Fusion Connect Inc’s recent troubles ($FSNN), that not all cloud businesses are created equal. This week, another cloud-company, TierPoint LLC, came into view after Moody’s changed the company’s outlook to negative from stable. The private, Missouri-based company provides “colocation, cloud computing, backup and business continuity, managed security, firewall, and professional services,” creating an “Infrastructure-as-a-Service” stack for its customers in the education, energy, financial, healthcare, legal, manufacturing, retail and tech industries.
The company has been on an acquisition spree over the years, gobbling up data center company, Cosentry, data services provider, AlteredScale, and the data services business of Windstream Holdings in 2016. The company, by virtue of the Consentry deal, is a TA Associates Management LP portfolio company.
As you might imagine, with great acquisition sprees come great loads of debt. The company’s balance sheet sports a $700mm first lien term loan, a $220mm first lien revolver and a $220mm second lien term loan. Moody’s points to near-term challenges that might affect the company’s ability to delever including, among other things, “unexpected customer churn volatility in late 2017” proving difficult to overcome. Moreover, margins and growth are down, further complicating efforts to drive the debt leverage down — yes, down — to 7x.
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👄Retail Partnerships Blossom Everywhere (Long Limiting Lease Exposure)👄
In “Retail Partnerships Abound (Long Survival Instincts),” we noted how Birchbox had entered into a partnership with Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. ($WBA) and CVS Health Corp ($CVS) with Glamsquad. We concluded:
People need drugs. People need food. So why not go where the customers are rather than try to generate independent traffic through your own brick-and-mortar location? Use someone else’s lease rather than incurring the liability. This all makes sense. And so there’s every reason to believe that this trend will continue — particularly where a company brings real brand cache to bear.
This week CVS announced another partnership: SmileDirectClub will be bringing its teeth-straightening services to hundreds of locations over the next two years. Per CNBC:
CVS is trying to keep up with its changing customers. People are shopping online more, especially on sites like Amazon, hurting CVS and other drugstores’ sales of everyday items like vitamins and toilet paper. CVS thinks focusing on health and beauty products and services will be a way to draw people in.
This is a trend that we very much expect to continue. Is it beyond question that, ultimately, we’ll start seeing “health courts” much like we see “food courts?” We can see it now: a murderers’ row of previously direct-to-consumer retailers like Warby Parker, Ro, Hims and SmileDirectClub all in one place so that you can cover your health and wellness needs all in one fell swoop.
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