Highpower's lithium batteries are distinguished by their flexible form factor. The company is able to produce high levels of electrical energy while configuring the battery to fit almost any space. Most competitors provide standard shapes that product designers need to adapt to. Chinese competitors have recently entered the lithium polymer space. But they generally are unable to match Highpower's performance level. In spite of the new entrants production capacity within the lithium battery industry has been unable to keep pace with demand. Highpower is benefiting from that trend. Existing customers are expanding purchase commitments. New customers are being added. And margins are improving as a result of better pricing and longer production runs.
New capacity is coming on line. A large expansion was completed in 2013. Depreciation charges will moderate earnings growth over the next few quarters as a result. But the available capacity combined with Highpower's superior quality is helping the company gain market share. Margins are poised to improve significantly over the next 2-3 years as the new plant fills up.
The electric vehicle market could yield substantial leverage. Lithium batteries were considered uncompetitive by most EV producers until Tesla Motors adopted the technology. While energy output is lower than for more exotic batteries, overall price-performance has proven far superior due to lower cost. Tesla presently buys all its batteries from Panasonic. Those are standard cylinders that Tesla packs together underneath the floor of the car's cabin. Panasonic is expanding its dedicated manufacturing facilities to support Tesla's next car, the Model X high end crossover. If that car meets its sales targets pressure will intensify on Panasonic despite the current ramp up. Tesla has a third car in the pipeline, moreover, aimed at the mass market. If that model connects capacity could become seriously constrained. If other car makers adopt lithium batteries the problem could be magnified. Tesla is contemplating construction of an in house battery manufacturing facility to help meet demand. It's existing business already is being limited by battery shortages and it wants to avoid further limitations in the future. Highpower could wind up selling significant quantities into the EV industry as the number of cars sold takes off. Conceivably, it also might consult or partner with Tesla on its internal project if the car maker diversifies away from its complete dependence on Panasonic.
Meantime, consumer electronics demand promises to accelerate growth. We estimate 2014 sales will advance 23% to $160 million to provide income of $.40 a share (+471%). Margins are poised to widen in 2015 and beyond, enabling earnings to keep climbing faster than sales. In 2-3 years sales could reach $200-$250 million to provide earnings of $.75-$1.00 a share. Those figures assume the sale of 4 million and 7 million shares, respectively, to reduce debt and finance expansion.
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