The question is now being asked by investors across the country: How real is Ballard Power (Ballard Power Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:BLDP) this time around?
The stock and the fuel cell technology behind it were all the rage a full two decades ago — literally eons in the tech and innovation space — when Ballard and fuel cells were hailed as the way of the future for the electric car.
But as the years went by and the technology failed to deliver on the mass scale hoped for by its proponents, investors fled. Ballard went from upwards of $180 per share in the year 2000 to five bucks and change by 2005. And while the stock came to life a few times over the ensuing years as Ballard made the shift in the mid-2010s towards long-haul vehicles, winning contracts along the way, there was little in the way of sustained upward momentum for the stock.
That was until late 2018 when Ballard and its PEM (proton exchange membrane) technology scored a joint venture with China’s Weichai Power to make fuel cell components for electric vehicles, followed by orders coming from the EU to power electric buses. At the same time US hydrogen fuel cell company Plug Power started gaining traction with more contracts and profitability in its sights.
Combine those individual successes with a market turning more fervently to clean tech stocks as governments worldwide try to make good on their climate promises and you’ve got a recipe for huge gains for Ballard (and Plug Power) shareholders, where BLDP became a ten-bagger between mid-2019 and earlier this year. Plug Power’s gains have been even more outlandish, going from US$3 to an incredible US$65 per share from January 2020 to February 2021.
And while some might see this as another hyped up period in the now multi-decade fuel cell tech drama, others see this time around differently, as the technology seems to have found its niche and, finally, looks to be the genuine article.
Portfolio manager Michael Hakes says investors should get on board because now’s the time for fuel cell stocks to shine.
“We don’t own Plug Power but we do look at and have a small position in our Canadian portfolio for Ballard, and quite frankly I think Ballard is better positioned than Plug Power going forward,” said Hakes of the Murray Wealth Group, who spoke on BNN Bloomberg on Wednesday.
“Ballard is a recognized leader with a track record in PEM technology and they have vehicles on the road,” Hakes said. “You may remember Ballard from 2000 when the stock hit $200, but that was when they were positioned more in in automobiles. Now they’ve diversified outside autos because autos are not really positioned very well for fuel cell vehicles, for buses and forklifts and trains and ships.”
Earlier this month, Ballard announced a deal with Canadian Pacific Railway to supply its fuel cell modules on CP’s in-the-works Hydrogen Locomotive Program, looking to retrofit diesel trains with fuel cells, which would be a first in North America.
“In addition to Ballard’s work focused on powering commuter trains in Europe and urban trams in China, CP’s Hydrogen Locomotive Program in North America underscores the strong fit for zero-emission fuel cells to power heavy- and medium-duty motive applications, including trains, for which it is otherwise difficult to abate emissions,” said Ballard president and CEO Randy MacEwan in a March 9 press release.
Hakes says Ballard will be hitting its stride at the right time, as countries worldwide are starting to build out their network for charging electric vehicles. The United Kingdom, for example, which plans to outlaw all new gasoline-powered cars by 2030, announced late last year it was committing £1.3 billion to expand its vehicle charging infrastructure.
“Ballard has two JVs with a European player and a Chinese player and now over 20 years and 50 million kilometres of experience on the roads. I think that will put them eventually over the next three to five years when the infrastructure is built out in a very good position,” Hakes said.
“Having said that, Plug Power is also providing similar PEM fuel cell [technology] to the market, so I think both will do well as the market grows and infrastructure is built out to support what Plug Power is offering as well as Ballard,” he said.
Ballard reported its fourth quarter and full year 2020 financials earlier this month, showing Q4 revenue down 32 per cent year-over-year to $28.6 million and adjusted EBITDA down 105 per cent to a loss of $14.5 million. Ballard said decreased shipments of fuel cell products to its Chinese customers along with a drop in revenue from its deal with Audi as reasons for the declines.