Ceres still spending, but looks to generate revenue
Sitting in public-company-listing limbo with a listing deadline on its current stock price, Thousand Oaks-based energy crop producer Ceres will attempt to continue its numerous pricey research projects by balancing them with new revenue streams.
Ceres’ core business is in developing seeds for biofuel crops that can be grown in harsh conditions and won’t displace food crops. The company has been testing sorghum in Brazil that would help ethanol producers there cover gaps in the country’s annual 200-day sugarcane season.
Ceres was set to hold a conference call on fourth-quarter fiscal statements Nov. 20, after the Business Times went to press.
Ceres’ history as a tri-county public company isn’t extended. After a long incubation, the company went public in 2012, raising $65 million.
It raised another $23 million in a follow-on round in March priced at $1 a share, money which it said it would use to test seeds in Brazil — one month before the company received a warning from the Nasdaq exchange that it faced delisting if its stock continued to trade under $1.
Quick access to capital was one of the primary reasons Ceres, which is still largely pre-commerical, went public. The company has never posted a profit. Its market capitalization is now about $12.5 million, down from $30 million in May.
Its latest offering round reinforces this structure. While it still relies heavily on research grants for cash flow, this number decreased by $0.3 million in this year’s third quarter. And though it brought in $0.5 million less in revenue in its most recent quarter compared to the same quarter the previous year, it also spent $0.5 million less on research and development over the same period.
Its biggest push so far has been testing the biofuel crop sweet sorghum in Brazil, where sugarcane-derived ethanol is a major fuel source. The company’s latest harvest there registered a yield 35 percent higher than last season’s.
“Based on this season’s positive results, Ceres is advancing several sweet and high biomass sorghum products for larger scale customer evaluations next season,” the company said in a press release announcing its third-quarter financial results. “The company will also advance new hybrids in its product development pipeline for continued mill evaluations.”
The catch: One more growing season is required for the company to “fully demonstrate economically attractive yields in Brazil,” it said in the statement.
Though Ceres cut jobs last year in Thousand Oaks, it has put more boots on the ground in Brazil to combat another issue affecting yields: whether farmers plant and grow its seeds correctly. The company has hired more agronomists and positioned them to work closely with growers.
For this growing season, it has about 49 customers, including mills and mill suppliers, across 55 different locations. In all, about 2,471 acres are planted with trial runs of the company’s sorghum.
But in late April, Nasdaq notified Ceres that it no longer satisfied the minimum bid-price requirement for listing on the exchange and gave it a 180-day grace period to come into compliance.
On Oct. 23, four days before that grace period ended, the company avoided a full delisting from The Nasdaq Stock Market by transferring its stock from The Nasdaq Global Market to The Nasdaq Capital Market.
Gary Koppenjan, the company’s communication director, said the change was largely a formality as Ceres stock continues to trade on the Nasdaq.
“We are on the capital markets tier rather than the global market tier. Under Nasdaq rules, the move provides the company another six months to regain compliance with the minimum bid price requirement,” Koppenjan said in an email. “Nasdaq Capital Market is a continuous trading market that operates in substantially the same manner as the global market tier, and listed companies must meet financial requirements and comply with Nasdaq’s corporate governance requirements.”
Aside from saving face, the maneuver provides Ceres another 180-day period to reach Nasdaq’s minimum standards by raising its minimum share price to at least $1 for 10 consecutive days.
If the company fails to achieve this before April 27, 2015, its stock will be fully delisted from the Nasdaq. According to the company’s U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, it provided written notice of its intention to meet the minimum bid price during the second grace period using a reverse stock split if necessary.
The company’s summer was further impacted by the unexpected death of its board chairman and co-founder, Walter De Logi, in August at age 63. The board appointed Cheryl Morley, previously chair of its audit committee, to replace De Logi.
Ceres has now begun to open up its revenue streams that can produce quicker returns than its sorghum crops. In May, the company looked to bring in cash by selling licenses for its portfolio of 85 patents, and in July the company inked a deal to monetize its genome-viewing software, Persephone, through a deal with Bayer CropScience.
Also in May, Ceres expanded its field evaluations to China to test plants with combinations of genes that may work together to amplify each’s benefits. The company expects results by the end of this year.