A123 Systems' Cell Family

A123 Systems warns of financial danger, and is selling more stock

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The financial woes befalling A123 Systems led management to issue a "going concern" warning, to tighten up expenses, and sell more stock, as the company faces steep losses due to defective battery packs and slow ramp up of production at partners including Fisker Automotive.

Battery maker A123 Systems warned this week that its current financial status raises "substantial doubt on the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern," which lead some misguided theorizing that this is the "next Solyndra." This move is unsurprising given the recent history of A123 Systems, a company that has had a mixed bag of problems stemming not only from failures of the company, but slow production ramp-up in the company's partners. The company is taking steps to shore up its finances, and may well navigate its way to a safe shore.

The problems at A123 Systems center on three areas: First, the company's major partner, Fisker Automotive, was slow to get into production, which not only caused Fisker's Dept. of Energy loans to be frozen, but threw A123's business plan into disarray. Second, quality problems with the company's battery packs caused a recall affecting not only Fisker's Karma, but other vehicles using A123 packs. The ensuing "field campaign" is costing the company over $65 million, and perhaps loss of goodwill with its partner companies. Finally, the company has itself admitted in SEC filings a strategic mistake of overly depending on Fisker Automotive to provide revenue, and when Fisker didn't ramp up production as expected A123's revenue did not ramp up as expected.

In the company's latest quarterly SEC filing (10-Q), A123's management issued a "going concern" warning. This followed a declared loss of $125 million in the first quarter, $113.1 million in cash on hand at March 31, 2012, down from $186.9 million at December 31, 2011. A part of the loss is the $51 million "field campaign" to "replace battery modules and packs that may contain defective prismatic cells" produced at Livonia factory, and a writeoff of $15.2 million for inventory produced at that factory. In March, the company announced it had found one of the battery manufacturing machines at the Livonia factory was misconfigured and had been producing defective cells, necessitating the field campaign.

For the first quarter 2011, the company's top two customers represented 23% of its revenue, and in the first quarter 2012 the top two customers represented 28% of the company's revenue. This over-dependence on key customers is recognized by A123's management as a risk. For 2012 the company expects more of its automotive manufacturing customers to ramp up production, and additionally the company is growing its smart grid energy storage system business. Between those effects the company's revenue base is expected to diversify, but in the near term the company will continue to derive its revenue from a small set of customers. Stumbles by any of those customers, management warns, "could have a material adverse effect on our short-term revenue." Significantly, Fisker Automotive accounted for 2% of A123's revenue in 2010, and 26% of its revenue in 2011, talk about a high dependency on a single customer.


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