Saturday, March 24, 2007

American Superconductor May Soon Turn the Corner

In the interest of full disclosure, let me first say that I am an American Superconductor (AMSC) shareholder and have been on and off since the late 1990s. The stock has been one of my favorites—and most profitable—even though the company has yet to make any money. But now I am starting to believe that profitability is just around the corner.

AMSC has three segments: Wires, SuperMachines, and Power Electronics. Power Electronics, the largest by far, recently turned profitable on an operating basis. However, profits in this segment are dwarfed by operating losses in the other two segments. This is because management is pouring a ton of money into R&D. It is no longer manufacturing its first-generation high temperature superconducting wires. Instead, it has moved on to making second generation (344 and 348) wires, which will provide superior performance and eventually incur much lower manufacturing costs.

Another promising area is ship-propulsion systems. AMSC has been working on a 36.5 megawatt superconducting motor for the U.S. Navy. Superconducting motors deliver the same power as conventional motors, but are much smaller and lighter. They are quieter, too. That is particularly important in military applications.

The company's January acquisition of Windtec is one the primary reasons I am turning more optimistic about future profitability. Windtec is an Austrian company that designs wind turbine systems that rely on AMSC's PowerModule systems. The acquisition makes strategic sense and already appears to be paying off in the form of major orders from Sinovel Wind Corp. of Beijing. Windtec is also receiving orders from South Korea.

Warning—this is an extremely risky and volatile stock. It has already run up about 50% so far this year. And the company is still burning cash. This means management may decide to take advantage of the recent rally by issuing more shares, which would likely push the price back down. Nonetheless, I think there is a good chance the company may break even in fiscal 2008, which begins next month.

You can view a MoneyMasters interview I conducted with CEO Greg Yurek back in December. It's called "Powering the Future."