SolarCity – Crisis or Opportunity?
The latest earnings numbers released by SolarCity (NASD:SCTY) show a mixed bag of results. Total revenues have been rising for the past 4 quarters, and the number of customers SolarCity is signing up continues to soar. All is not rosy, though, as operating expenses relative to net loss continue to increase. This article dives into the reported numbers, looks at important customer trends, and asks whether SolarCity is still a stock worth investing in.
Revenues: Not a record, but steady growth
Revenues for the third quarter came in strong for SolarCity, at $48.6 million. This is a 52% increase in revenues over the same quarter last year, though it is still far below the record set in June 2012. Still, income has been rising in a straight-line direction for the past four quarters, and fourth quarter revenues are projected to be steady or rising.
Net income, on the other hand, has not fared so well. The first three quarters of 2013 have shown large losses. SolarCity reveals that in the most recent quarter it hemorrhaged $34.6 million. Total current assets have remained steady for the company since the last quarter at around $312 million. However, the cash portion of those assets dropped 17% to $133 million. So while it looks like SolarCity can sustain losses for a few more years on its current tack, this trend of negative net income must turn around in order for the company to remain viable for the long-term.
Revenues projected to rise
Revenues are projected to continue a steady increase for
SolarCity on an annual basis. According to the company’s latest
guidance, money coming in from leases and sales are expected to
grow to between $157 million to $163 million for all of 2013. That
means about a 25% increase over 2012 revenues, and about five
times the revenues of just three years ago.
Expenses continue to increase
Since the revenue side of the equation is solid for SolarCity, high expenses are the cause of continued losses for the company. Total operating expenses deepened for each quarter of 2013, now at $46.2 million. So far for 2013, expenses are greater than for all of 2012.
Know your customer
In order to understand when a mass-market company like SolarCity is likely to become profitable, one must understand the nature of its customer base. Questions to be answered include how fast is the customer base growing, how much does it cost to get a new customer, and how much money does each customer generate.
Customers have been added at a steady clip the past three quarters. In fact, the third quarter of 2013 added almost twice as many clients as were added in the first quarter of the year. Already year-to-date, SolarCity has added almost as many customers as it did in the banner year of 2012.
Revenues per customer, however, have remained flat, at around $600 per customer per quarter. (Note that revenues per customer look much larger for the annual data on the chart, but those numbers account for a full four quarters of income. When revenues per customer are projected out for all of 2013, it lands in the $2,500 range).
It is a bit hard to tell from the chart, but net loss per customer has been shrinking in 2013. It is down 30% since the first quarter, from a loss of $601 per customer to a loss of $421 in the third quarter. Likewise the acquisition cost per customer is dropping, down 29% from the first quarter to just under $2,000. These are both positive trends, and if they continue, will play an important role in bringing about profitability.
Is SolarCity still a good investment?
Though it is in the solar business, SolarCity is essentially a finance company. It uses billions of dollars of variable interest entity (VIE) investments, long and short-term debt, tax credits and stockholder equity to create leases, notes and other equities to generate income. As I have stated before, SolarCity as an energy stock is a speculative investment any way you slice it. It has yet to turn a profit, and consensus estimates are betting that it will still have negative earnings in 2014 and 2015. Because earnings results were good but not stellar, the stock has given up about 15% of its value from its high a week ago.
Having said that, there is no doubt that SolarCity is a well-positioned company in the growing field of solar installs. Last quarter alone it deployed 78 megawatts of photovoltaics. That is greater than what was installed in all of 2011, and about 70% of all megawatts SolarCity installed in 2012. If acquisition cost per customer drops below the $1,000 range, and if the company continues to grow its bottom line to swing net revenues per customer in a positive direction, then current prices for SolarCity will likely be justified. As such, I see SolarCity as a long-term hold for the investor that can stomach volatility, rather than a traders stock.
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