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Where to find value in space stocks that were obliterated after the SPAC frenzy

A host of space companies went public in the 2020-2021 SPAC frenzy, but the past year has been brutal for extraterrestrial stocks, opening a window for investors to scoop up leading names at deflated prices. The SPAC boom hit a wall in 2022 and the associated space stocks plummeted, regardless of the fundamentals at the core of each company or their often very different roles in the growing space economy. Shares of most space SPACs are down between 40% and 85% over the past 12 months, trading far below debut prices. Wall Street gives multiple reasons why a dozen space stocks have been driven down: the market’s flight from riskier assets, a lack of understanding of space-based business models – but above all, the pop in the SPAC bubble. Among the stocks affected: Astra , BlackSky , Momentus , Planet Labs , Redwire , Rocket Lab , Satellogic , Spire Global , Terran Orbital , Virgin Galactic , AST SpaceMobile and Virgin Orbit . “Just about anything that was a SPAC has been obliterated,” Deutsche Bank analyst Edison Yu said, adding that he believes “the majority of institutional investors see this as still a very nascent industry.” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives emphasized that “the appetite for risk is just not there, and a lot of these space names play into that.” But the global space economy continues to grow to record levels — reaching almost half a trillion dollars last year — despite some companies’ public market woes. Private investment, although slower than what were previously staggering amounts of quarterly flows, continues to move into the industry. While early runups in space SPAC names such as Virgin Galactic may have reflected speculative bubbles , the key for investors now is about businesses no longer in a development or high cash burn phase, and that offer operational products, Canaccord Genuity’s Austin Moeller said. “Some of these companies … have a demonstrated launch capability [or] operational vehicles, they have real backlogs, they have real customers… and then you’ve got them trading alongside other companies in the space sector still in the ‘PowerPoint and press release,’ is what I would like to call it, or ‘science project’ stage,” Moeller said. CNBC’s analysis breaks down space SPAC stocks into three categories — quality, opportunity, and danger — to explain the differences between companies’ businesses, and how investors may soon face a fork in the road for these when an appetite for risk returns. “There should be some separation of the wheat from the chaff to say, ‘who really makes sense here?‘” Raymond James analyst Ric Prentiss told CNBC. Quality Picks Rocket Lab and Planet Labs are two space companies that have a diversified suite of operational products, annual revenue near or above $100 million and management teams with strong track records. Shares of Rocket Lab are down nearly 50% in the past year, but analysts’ consensus price target of $13.44 would see the stock more than double from current levels, according to FactSet. The company ranks as the second most active U.S. orbital rocket builder after Elon Musk’s SpaceX, with its Electron rocket having launched nearly 150 satellites to date. Rocket Lab expanded into building spacecraft and satellite components, the majority of its revenue, and has about $540 million in cash on hand, as well as a backlog of orders totaling more than $500 million. Alex King, founder of space and tech-focused Cestrian Capital Research, described Rocket Lab as a triple threat company: “It’s a low cost launch provider that is proven successful … the CEO [Peter Beck] is a rock star in the industry … and third, the financials are pretty solid: growth is good, margins are likely to prove good, it’s cash resilient and likely able to access capital when it needs it,” King said. Planet Labs, whose stock has tumbled 40% over the past year, is an Earth-imagery satellite and data specialist, with an average analyst price target of $10 a share and six buy ratings (no holds or sells), according to FactSet. “I view Planet as a big data play,” Ives told CNBC. “It’s space, but the applicability is really more of a software subscription model and that I think is what really stands out.” Similar to Rocket Lab, Ives emphasized that Planet is “a proven business model with real revenue that is not speculative.” The company has customers balanced across four main groups – civil, defense and intelligence, agriculture, and mapping – and generated $40 million in revenue in its most recent quarter. Notably, Planet won a significant 10-year contract from the National Reconnaissance Office. Planet has almost 200 satellites in orbit, with plans to launch a new, more powerful line early next year . Opportunity This middle swath of space SPAC stocks represents several opportunities, but with varying degrees of risk and commercial track records. Possibly the strongest name, and also the stock hardest hit, is Spire. The company’s shares have collapsed nearly 85% in the past year. Despite that, the Wall Street consensus price target is $3.95 price target, or almost 150% above the stock’s recent price near $1.60. Spire has a constellation of more than 110 satellites in orbit , each hosting different sensors that collect radio frequency data on weather, maritime and aviation patterns. The company has a growing book of customer subscriptions, with annual recurring revenue hitting $85 million in the latest quarter. “As far as I know, Spire is the only one with an actual functioning sizeable constellation of [radio frequency] observation satellites, and therefore if you want anything global done in the RF space, then Spire is the one you need to go to and that lack of competition I think helps their growth rate,” Cestrian’s King said. King noted that Spire attracts little attention “despite the strong fundamentals,” and Raymond James’ Prentiss said most institutional investors “won’t touch” a stock that’s under $10 a share, adding that Spire needs to “keep putting one foot in front of the other” and building its subscription revenue. Like Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit builds small rockets , but has a differentiated approach known as air launch by using a modified 747 jet to deploy its rockets. Its stock is down 60% in the past year. Virgin Orbit has conducted four consecutive successful launches, two in 2022 alone. While the company’s cash burn remains high, with an adjusted EBITDA loss of nearly $50 million in Q1, Virgin Orbit has built a contract backlog in excess of $500 million and strong national security relationships, as well as agreements to fly launches from other countries. “There’s definitely interest within Congress and the Pentagon brass about having the capability to be able to take a payload … and get it up into orbit in a very short period of time,” Canaccord Genuity’s Moeller said. Redwire works in space infrastructure and had 2021 revenue of $137 million. Its stock is down more than 60% over the past year. Jefferies’ Greg Konrad, the sole analyst covering Redwire (price target $11), called it “by far the most diversified of the group.” Cestrian’s King noted that its structure as a combination of multiple smaller companies has caused delays in reporting results due to “accounting complexity.” That difficulty, “arising from a roll up, is likely to continue to dog them for a while,” King said. Terran Orbital is a spacecraft manufacturer that was among the last of this group to complete the SPAC process. Its stock is similarly down nearly 60% in the past year. Wall Street’s consensus target of $12.40 a share, according to FactSet, would mean Terran Orbital tripling from its current price. With a contract to build satellites for the Pentagon’s Space Development Agency, Canaccord Genuity’s Moeller sees a “recurring revenue opportunity” for Terran Orbital to continue manufacturing for the U.S. military as it launches and replaces satellites. Terran Orbital brought in revenue of $21.4 million in the latest quarter, with an adjusted EBITDA loss of $14.8 million and a contract backlog of $224.1 million. Shares in satellite imagery ventures BlackSky and Satellogic are down 75% and 50%, respectively, in the past year. BlackSky currently has 14 satellites in orbit. While Cestrian’s King said BlackSky’s “financials are not strong,” the company has won key national security contracts – notably a share of the NRO’s 10-year awards that is worth up to $1 billion to BlackSky. “I think it’s unproven so far,” King said of BlackSky, adding that the NRO “didn’t have to award that much to a small company.” Two Wall Street firms cover BlackSky, both rating it a buy with a $6 price target, according to FactSet. Satellogic has 26 satellites in orbit, but had minimal revenue in 2021 as it only began selling and delivering imagery last year. The company had $168 million in cash at the end of last year, which it plans to use to grow its network to more than 200 satellites. No Wall Street analyst covers the stock. Danger Lastly are the space SPAC stocks that all but the most risk-tolerant investors are avoiding: Astra, AST SpaceMobile, Momentus, and Virgin Galactic. “These are the ones which don’t have product today, and are purely speculative in nature,” King said. Astra had some revenue from its spacecraft engines business. But its core small rocket operations were halted after mission failures led the company to abandon its existing line of rockets and focus on developing a new one. The company reported an adjusted EBITDA loss of $48.4 million in the second quarter, with $200 million in cash on hand. AST SpaceMobile has high aspirations of delivering satellite-to-smartphone broadband , but has yet to launch the BlueWalkers 3 satellite it needs to demonstrate it can deliver the service. Momentus had a tumultuous management history in the run-up to going public , and is still working to show its Vigoride spacecraft can demonstrate that it’s fully capable. Its most recent mission had mixed results, running into anomalies but also deploying customer satellites. The company reported an adjusted EBITDA loss of $18.3 million in the second quarter, with $109 million in cash on hand. Virgin Galactic is years behind in launching commercial service of its space tourism business, with the company announcing yet another delay earlier this month. Although about 800 tickets have been sold to passengers, the company needs to hit a flight rate that is many times higher than what it’s demonstrated in testing so far. Virgin Galactic reported a second-quarter adjusted EBITDA loss of $93 million, with $1.1 billion in cash on hand and plans to sell as much as $300 million in additional common stock. Analysts says the risky and capital intensive nature of space ventures, plus the need for education about the sector, means only a small number of institutional investors are paying attention right now. “I think it will take time for institutional investors to spend the effort and energy to really ramp up on it,” Deutsche Bank’s Yu said. The space sector will gain more prominence once SpaceX’s Starlink business goes public, Yu said, although Musk has said that won’t happen until 2025 — or later . “Maybe if SpaceX or Starlink goes public one day, people will be forced to do more work on the sector. But there just hasn’t been a real catalyst this year to really get people to hone in on it in a way they probably should,” Yu added.


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