Volatile Plug Power Spikes on... What Exactly?

Jacob Harper  |

The hydrogen fuel-cell manufacturer Plug Power has been a fixture in financial news for some time, as the highly divisive play routinely experiences dramatic ups and downs amidst some of the highest volume in the entire small-cap market. July 21 trading action proved to be no exception to the rule, with shares surging more than 13 percent.

As is often the case with Plug Power, the rise was fueled more by optimistic market sentiment from the previous week than by any late-breaking news. Analyst opinion of the company the week prior erred on the bullish side as of late. FBR Capital initiated coverage on Plug Power with an outperform rating, and on July 18 Roth Capital reiterated their rating while raising the price guidance on the company to $4.75 a share.

 In the past, sudden upswings in the stock price of Plug Power could be attributed to news of a potentially lucrative deal to supply a larger company with their products. Notably, deals with FedEx ($FDX) to outfit their electric trucks with Plug Power fuel cells and with megalith Wal-Mart (WMT) to power forklifts and other heavy machinery essential to the retailer's operations.

Short-Sellers and Bulls Square off on PLUG

However, in 2014 Plug Power’s stock performance has been more often than not unrelated to news of revenue-raising deals and more so to investors battling over an appropriate share price. As would be expected of a growth play that has increased in value more than an 1,100% in a year, Plug Power is not without its skeptics. The most dramatic case of investor naysaying came from one-man short-sell operation Citron Research, who issued a typically bombastic research report on the company on March 11, sparking a sell-off while bloating its short float.

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Whether Citron’s report was accurate or not, Plug Power’s position as a battleground stock has been solidified. The bears certainly have their reasons for eyeing Plug Power skeptically. Indeed, despite the initial promises to become profitable that first sparked Plug Power’s skyrocketing price and consistently narrowing losses, the company has still never spent any time in the black.

While the tech sector has never been one strictly tied to fundamentals when it comes to valuation, the zeal with which investors sunk their money into the company and drove up share price belied a certain amount of untenable over-exuberance. After being threatened with NASDAQ delistment late last year for failing to maintain the requisite dollar a share stock price, in March shares of Plug Power briefly touched $11 apiece, before the bubble burst and the stock sunk into the $4-4.50 range.

Joining the Russell 2000 Party

The recent votes of confidence from analysts have done much to assuage investor fears that the company’s run-up was unsustainable. While the company has been the subject of battles between short-sellers like Citron and their more bullish counterparts, the company is not an empty speculative vehicle with absolutely zero fundamental strengths. Indeed, its fundamentals have been singled out by equities.com’s analysts for being unusually strong, which merited Plug Power a space in the Small-Cap Stars index.

With a short float of 19.88 percent, Plug Power definitely maintains a certain number of detractors. This has been offset by small victories, like the two successive positive reviews form analysts, and its recent induction into the Russell 2000 small-cap index, which itself caused an 18 percent surge in price.

By 3 PM EST shares of Plug Power’s uptick had been tempered somewhat, but shares still sat at $5.64 a share. The day’s price represented Plug Power’s highest in three months.

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