Nick Hodge’s ads from the Outsider Club open up with a promise that has been used to sell us all manner of stocks, from content delivery networks to faster WiFi technology to “Internet Royalties”: A faster internet.
And who doesn’t want that, right? Most folks have decent access to broadband now, but we’re constantly reminded that some special folks do have direct fiber optic connections, like those with Google Fiber in Kansas City or a few other towns, and that we’re all missing out.
So what’s the stock that Nick Hodge says can deliver the “Giga Net?” Here’s the intro from the ad:
“It’s 100 TIMES faster than regular Internet…
“Google and Verizon have hired a $1 company to install it in cities nationwide… and it will transform this tiny company into a juggernaut….
“A nationwide rollout is already underway.
“Dubbed the ‘Giga Net’ by technology insiders because it offers speeds of 1 gigabit per second, which is 100 times the speed of a typical broadband connection…
“This new Internet has captured the attention of the entire technology community.”
Who wouldn’t want a piece of that, right? Living on Gumshoe Mountain here in the wilds of Western Massachusetts, I’m afraid I’m stuck with whatever Comcast is willing to sell me for internet access… but hope springs eternal that some kind of faster connection will make it out here to small town New England. Might this “Giga Net” be the answer?
Well, let’s figure out what he’s pitching first. He’d like us to subscribe to his Early Advantage newsletter for $799 — we’ve seen a few teaser pitches from that letter this year, including the “Obama’s Secret Pipeline” spiel about uranium stocks and the “Midas Supergroup” piece about wireless electricity and Energouos (WATT), so it hasn’t exactly been “all winners” so far in 2016 but, well, hope springs eternal.
And the stock he’s teasing is apparently an installer of this “Giga Net” …
“… industry leaders like Google, Verizon, and AT&T are in on this already… and they are investing tens of billions of dollars.
“But here’s the thing…
“They are all relying heavily on one small company to bring it to millions upon millions of homes, businesses, and schools nationwide.
“It’s a unique company that’s rapidly becoming the preferred installer of the world’s new Giga Net.
“Why? Because it can do it faster, more efficiently, and more cost-effectively than anyone else.
“This company is TINY, too — less than $30 million in market capitalization. But it’s already been hired by some of the biggest tech firms in the world to install this new Internet.
“If you have a small portion of your portfolio that you can put to work on a company that could ultimately pay you 10 times your money… I don’t think there’s a better bet in the market.”
So yes, this “giga net” is a veiled reference to “last mile” fiber optic networks — usually referred to as “Fiber to the Home” (FTTH) or “Fiber to the Premises” (FTTP). They leverage the much faster speeds of fiber optic communications by extending those communications not just to regional or neighborhood hubs, as is common now (in cities, at least) but all the way to the end customer, so there’s no slowdown from a coaxial cable connection over that last mile (or whatever).
I would be delighted to quadruple my Comcast bill if I could get a fiber connection to my home, but it’s extraordinarily expensive to lay all that cable to extend the fiber network down each street and to make new connections to each home. Google Fiber is doing it by spending a lot of money and by buying up lots of “dark fiber” that was laid by companies during the dot-com boom but never connected, but that will only go so far — there isn’t “dark fiber” everywhere, and they still have to connect individual neighborhoods and homes.
But yes, the internet is getting more and more congested as more and more data is transmitted, mostly because of the huge bandwidth demanded by Netflix and other streaming video and audio providers… and compression and new technologies for faster connections and transmissions can’t keep up, so there continue to be new fiber connection buildouts and, though some major providers (like Verizon Fios) have stopped investing heavily in new FTTP buildouts, there are still lots of both local and long-distance fiber projects planned and under construction.
And apparently this $1 “Giga Net” company was part of the Google Fiber rollout in Kansas City…
“Google hired this $1 company to install the Giga Net in Kansas City, Missouri.
“What was the result?
“An absolute EXPLOSION in economic activity…
“Because of the Giga Net, over 121 businesses have either been launched in or relocated to the Kansas City area.”
So what’s special about this “Giga Net” stock? Here’s some more…
“$1 ‘Giga Net’ Stock to Go Vertical
“So what exactly does this $1 company do?
“In short, it has developed an innovative method for connecting millions of homes, hospitals, schools, and businesses to the lightning-fast Giga Net — faster, cheaper, and with less construction disruption.
“It saves clients tons of time and money.
“That’s why this company is rapidly becoming America’s preferred installer of the new Giga Net. Canada’s, too.”
OK, so… some kind of company that installs fiber optic cabling and/or networks, and does it better than others.
Sound familiar? Yes, we’ve looked at this company before — it was teased by Keith Schaefer in mid-July as the “Fat Pitch for 2015,” and we covered that in the Friday File here. The company is a fiber optic installation firm called Lite Access Technologies (LTE on the Canadian Stock Exchange, LTCCF OTC in the US).
And we’re told that Google and Verizon have hired the firm, that it’s also done work to connect Johns Hopkins and Stanford University, among others, and that there’s been a “recent ruling by the FCC” that will accelerate the rollout of the “Giga Net.” That ruling came last Winter, and it essentially gives “equal access” to utility poles and conduits so that telecoms can’t deny Google or anyone else from extending fiber networks using their telephone poles. Hodge says this will accelerate the expansion of the “Giga Net” because it will mean Google doesn’t have to spend tons of cash to run its fiber underground.
And, of course Hodge tells us that “Regardless of who emerges on top” from the competition among Google, Comcast and the telecoms, “this little company will STILL make an absolute fortune.”
This company is a new one, it went public in June and has done one small merger with another tiny company. And the secret sauce, we’re told, si that “when it comes to deploying the fiber needed for the Giga Net, this company installs it five times faster and for one-fifth the cost of anyone else.”
What is that technology? Micro-trenching and air-blown fiber through microconduits.
Essentially, the argument for these folks is that instead of digging deep into the street, they dig a very narrow trench (only an inch or two wide) and run thin conduit (think garden hose, or smaller) through those trenches, and then use compressed air to run the actual fiberoptic cable bundle through that small conduit. Less construction disruption, faster work, lower cost.
The immediate assumption, of course, is “this is stupid.” Which should be our kneejerk reaction to any microcap company pitched as a nationwide savior who will become the go-to supplier/installer for the biggest companies in the world. But apparently there’s a bit more to it, sez Hodge, in that this company isn’t actually doing all the install work — it only has 50 employees — but will be selling the technology and the cabling and equipment to the installers, making it, at least theoretically, a more scalable business. Here’s how Hodge puts it:
“The ‘Cisco’ of the Giga Net
“This company doesn’t actually install the fiber itself.
“Remember, it’s tiny. It only has 50 employees.
“So instead of tediously laying miles and miles of optical fiber itself, this company SELLS its proprietary installation methodology to clients.
“It sells the technology, the fiber cabling, and some other necessary equipment.
“Its technique is 100% protected by its patent. So that means it has uniquely positioned itself to offer this cutting-edge solution for deploying fiber networks.
“And for getting fiber into the ground, it’s the fastest and cheapest solution out there.
“Sales for this firm more than DOUBLED last year. And it continues to receive a steady stream of new orders (and repeat orders).
“In fact, orders are lined up that total several times the value this tiny company is currently trading for.
“This is the go-to company for building out the infrastructure of the new Giga Net.”
And in addition to comparing little Lite Access Technologies to Cisco, he also compares it to Akamai (AKAM) — he says that Akamai was a “no-name penny stock” trading at 70 cents a share, and that a series of partnerships with big US companies drove the stock up more than 400%… and then, after it struck a deal with China Telecom, the shares rose by as much as 8,659%. And this company is, Hodge says, “following a similar path.”
Which is hooey, of course. Akamai developed “traffic management” software and built out a network of distributed servers to deliver content faster — and it was one of the most successful and highest-profile IPOs of the dot com mania, it went public at $26 a share back in 1999 and shot up to about $275 a share, with a market cap of about $30 billion, within a matter of weeks before the bottom fell out of the market. It did indeed end up trading at about 70 cents a share at the lows of 2001 or 2002, which was obviously (in retrospect, at least) as much of an overreaction as the $275 share price was. It was still roughly the same company at the lows, despite a drop in sales and the death of the co-founder (he was a victim of 9/11), they had a real business with real sales and earnings prospects — it just, after sentiment collapsed completely, was in a cash crunch, had to issue convertible debt cheap, and traded at about 0.5X sales instead of the 2,000X sales valuation it got during the mania a year or two before. They did recover, mostly because demand for their services picked up pretty quickly once the wounds healed from the dot-com crash and internet companies started growing again — and yes, part of that was because of new deals with those US and Chinese web companies and telecoms. (For what it’s worth, AKAM is now a pretty stable midcap in the internet space, the strongest survivor of the content delivery networks, and it has pretty consistently traded in the neighborhood of 5X sales for the last five years or so.)
But Akamai has little to nothing to do with a fiber optic installer and installation equipment provider, of course — other than the fact that both have a business that’s driven, in the big picture, by a need for more and faster data transmission.
So what does Lite Access actually do? Well, they haven’t shared a lot of information with investors just yet. They do have quarterly filings for both the original company and the company they acquired this summer, the trenching and installation firm DSG, so I guess we can kind of guess what the business looks like — DSG in their last independent quarter had revenue of about a million dollars and net income of $25,000, and for the year prior to that it was about $2.5 million in revenue and $200,000 in net income. Lite Access in their last quarter had sales of $120,000 and a net loss of about a million dollars, though, to be fair, that was mostly because of the costs of going public through a reverse merger — without the professional fees, presumably for lawyers or bankers, and the listing and filing fees and the share-based payments, they would probably have come close to breaking even.
And they do have a big contract now, relative to the size of the company — they have agreed to a fixed-price contract for about $7 million (Canadian, presumably — this is a Canadian company) to provide a 100+ KM fiberoptic network on a remote island of British Columbia, which is by far their biggest contract ever, and they have several other smaller installation contracts that total up to almost $9 million. This is not some kind of “provide the technology for other people” business just yet, these are real installation contracts that the company will fulfill using employees and equipment and, presumably, subcontractors. I would assume that the company’s books over the next year will be dominated by how that one big BC contract works out — meaning, what kind of profit can they make on this deal?
And on that, I have absolutely no idea. This is a remote and very rural area, and it sounds like they’re running the cable just between a half dozen hubs on the island, not to each individual home. Estimates I’ve seen of the cost of running fiber optic cable in the past have been $30-50,000 per mile, and this contract is for a lot more than that ($30K/mile would be about $2 million), but there aren’t really any “standard” installations in fiber optics… particularly not when you’re talking about a remote island. If they make a profit on this project, which is supposed to be finished by April of next year, then they’ll probably be in pretty good shape — I’ve seen no indication from the company about what kind of profitability they expect.
But in a broader picture, that means, to me, that the company is very much focused on this installation work — they’re unlikely to become a dominant equipment supplier if they have an installation contract to fulfill that dwarfs anything they’ve ever done before. So far, in these very early days, it looks to me like their revenue is going to continue to come overwhelmingly from the installation contracts they win and complete, whether big ones like this BC island network or small ones like the $100,000 deal to extend a network for a Vancouver university.
Lite Access has something like 30 million shares outstanding, including the shares they used as part of the acquisition of DSG, so the company is currently valued in the market at about $30 million. There doesn’t seem to be any meaningful debt. They might have something like $10 million in sales if they complete all of these projects and don’t also add other large contracts over the coming couple quarters. The highest gross margin that DSG has had recently was 27%, so that would mean a potential $2.7 million in gross profit, and expenses for DSG, the installation business, ran about 17% of revenue in their best full year, which would leave about a million dollars for potential net income (assuming those margins still hold with this $7 million contract). The LTE business is so much smaller than DSG’s installation business that it’s hard to guess whether it might contribute anything — so my wild guess is that the company might, a year from now, have earnings possibly as high as a million dollars. It could easily be twice that if the BC contract goes really well, or a loss of a couple million dollars if they invest in plant expansion or business development and that contract doesn’t generate a profit.
Almost all their revenue is coming from installation contracts, and the installation contracting company they bought (DSG) was acquired for about 1X trailing sales… so does that mean this new larger company with possibly about $10 million in contracts should be valued at $10 million? Is there something genuinely unique or scalable about Lite Access that means it should be worth three times that much?
I often have trouble taking companies seriously when they’re this small and are touted as having exponential growth possibilities, particularly when claims are made about this being the “only” solution — in this case, for cheaper and faster fiber optic installation. There are too many moving parts, and too many fiber optic installation companies, for me to be comfortable assuming that that they’ll become a dominant player… and my very brief research online into other fiber optic suppliers and installers indicates to me that neither microtrenching nor air-blown fiber are unique offerings of Lite Access or DSG, there are lots of companies that offer those materials and services. Maybe Lite Access has a better mousetrap, maybe it’s just a slightly different mousetrap — I am certainly not qualified to answer that after an hour of basic research.
Of course, they don’t have to be a dominant player to be successful — even if they don’t manage to make a profit at $10 million a year in sales, which is certainly possible since we have no idea how their cost base is going to grow as the revenue climbs or if they’re good at bidding on big contracts, it wouldn’t be crazy to think they might double that revenue and build a decent business. But a company that might go from being a speculative $30 million company to possibly a reasonably profitable $50 million company is not what most folks would be looking for after seeing this ad from Nick Hodge, they’ll be looking for life-changing gains of thousands of percent. We still haven’t seen a filing for this combined company, nor have we seen any real results from Lite Access itself, so there are still too many questions for me. The only real revenue, and my extrapolation, are from DSG, the company they acquired for just $2.5 million, so it worries me that 90% of the value of the company (the other $27 million of the $30 million market cap) is based on some presumption of the unique intellectual property at Lite Access, and I don’t see a lot of evidence of that uniqueness.
So… in the end, this still looks to me like an interesting little contracting company with maybe a somewhat differentiated (better or not, I dunno) technique for installing fiberoptic cable. It looks to me like they should be able to make a profit at that business, given that fiber investments are growing and that the installation company they bought was already profitable, but I’d be more skeptical about the potential to license or otherwise sell their technology or technique to other installers and become a large part of the broader international fiber optic business.
I see that Lite Access calls itself the “World leader in Air blown fibre and microduct solutions,” but other than the company itself, and Nick Hodge this week and the folks who pitched this microcap stock back in July, I don’t see anyone else referring to them as being in possession of a breakthrough technology or technique. That could be because of a failure in my research or imagination, which is certainly possible after a limited investment of time on my part, or it could be because the company or the newsletter guys are exaggerating.
If we think about this as a “connect the dots” drawing, it seems to have a lot of dots lined up nicely on the page in a kind of suggestive pattern as the company (and, more aggressively, the newsletter copywriters) build their argument that Lite Access “must” become a juggernaut built on their proprietary technology… but the dots don’t have lines drawn between them, and there are no numbers, so you’d have to have a bit of faith and imagination to see the final picture. I don’t see it, and I don’t think it’s worth spending a lot more time looking for that picture when the company is this small and has almost no track record in the form of real financial reports. If you decide to speculate on this one I do hope it works out well for you, but I’ll take a pass. Do be careful if you decide to try to trade this one, it’s teensy and very illiquid on the pink sheets (and on the Canadian Stock Exchange, though most brokers won’t let you trade there anyway)… illiquid doesn’t mean it’s necessarily hard to buy, at least in small chunks, but it can mean that it will be very hard to sell if you want to get out in a hurry at some point in the future.
Any thoughts on Lite Access or other fiber optic topics? Let us know with a comment below.
Oh, and for disclosure’s sake: yes, I own shares of Google and Verizon, which are mentioned above. I don’t have any financial interest in any other company covered, and won’t trade any of them for at least three days per my trading rules.
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