Mike Ahearn, chairman of the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels, had every reason to party in September. That’s when his company, First Solar, based in Tempe, Ariz., was picked by China to build what promises to be the world’s biggest solar-electricity plant: a Manhattan-size facility in Inner Mongolia providing 2 gigawatts of power, about twice the size of a large coal plant or average nuclear power station. But the Chinese facility will take years to build, and the party buzz subsided pretty quickly. The next month, Wall Street analysts downgraded First Solar’s stock after the company missed its third-quarter revenue target. "I think the Wall Street perspective is pretty short-term," says Ahearn.
That’s true, but it’s also true that, while photovoltaic cells that turn sunlight into electricity may play a potentially vital role in weaning the world from fossil fuels, a transition will take decades — and the business metrics surrounding the solar-power industry currently are anything but bright. After a period of rapid expansion, panel manufacturers today are reeling from a pronounced supply surplus, falling prices and stagnating sales. In 2009, industry revenue plunged by nearly 40% to about $25 billion from $40 billion the previous year, according to BankAmerica Merrill Lynch alternative-energy analyst Steven Milunovich. Solar-panel output far outstripped demand last year; manufacturers made 66% more product than they were able to sell, estimates research firm iSuppli located in El Segundo, Calif. Some analysts believe the dismal conditions will persist into 2011, setting up marginal players worldwide for failure. "A large number of manufacturers will not survive," says Paul Semenza, an analyst with research company DisplaySearch, based in San Jose, Calif.
The global glut has been building for a number of years as hundreds of solar cell and panel start-ups, attracted by a potential boom in alternative energy as oil prices climbed and by government solar-energy-subsidy programs, swarmed into the market. Because the industry’s barriers to entry are relatively low — crystalline solar cells are rudimentary semiconductors that are comparatively easy to make — the number of solar-panel and photovoltaic suppliers mushroomed nearly tenfold from 2002, when there were about 80 manufacturers, to somewhere between 500 and 800 today, according to iSuppli. In China and Taiwan, whole solar-energy sectors sprouted almost overnight. Stefan de Haan, an analyst for iSuppli, says industry profit margins,…
Industry fundamentals are looking pretty bad for solar.
After enjoying a few years of tight supply, far too much solar production capacity is coming online as a result.
Government policy hasn’t helped either. For 2009, half of total solar production might not even be sold due a change in government policy from a major solar buyer, Spain.
WSJ: Spain accounted for more than 40% of all new solar panel installation globally last year, installing 2.7 gigawatts — five times the 2007 figure — out of a global total of 5.6 gigawatts. According to Spain’s photovoltaic industry association, Asif, the country’s market was worth €16.38 billion ($23.24 billion). This year, with cuts to aid and a more complicated application process, there has been no new installation in Spain.
Other countries are introducing aid to the solar sector, particularly the U.S. But the new U.S. measures aren’t expected to arrive in time to shore up demand this year. And while China has pledged support for the solar industry via economic-stimulus packages, support is likely to primarily benefit its own low-cost producers that have easy access to credit from state-owned Chinese banks.
Even based on bullish Barlcays numbers shown below, supply is likely to oustrip demand by 30-40% for many years. This could collapse prices down to merely the cost of production… or worse.
Sahm Adrangi: Currently, there is too much supply in all the steps. There is too much polysilicon. There are too many wafers. There are too may solar cells and there are too many modules. The oversupply began in 4Q08, and has only become more exacerbated as time has gone on. Polysilicon prices have crashed from about $400/kg to about $70/kg. Marginal cost is estimated to be around $35 to $45/kg, and I’ll bet that prices will get there soon enough.
Perhaps companies such as Suntech (STP), Yingli (YGE), SunPower (SPWRA), and even First Solar (FSLR), despite its technology advantage, could be in for a long, nasty price war.
I’ve been a long time investor in the solar space (circa late 06) and one thing that has really irked me over the years is the complete lack of differentiation. Much like the market as a whole nowadays, its "all or nothing" in this space. The one exception has been First Solar (FSLR) – an American "thin film" (different technology than most solar companies) producer. The Chinese names have especially all been thrown together in one pot and when its time to run up solar, they all go up together (in varying degrees) and when solar is out of favor they all get pole axed. Hence doing any due diligence is really a waste of time.
Yingli Green Energy (YGE) and a company that has cost me many real (and virtual) dollars over the years, Trina Solar (TSL) are 2 of the Chinese solar markets with good size, and the most integrated production models. This should have differentiated them over the years – but as I said above, not in American investors eyes. We like "big easy to understand, sweeping themes" – i.e. oil up, solar good. And that’s as comprehensive as it seems to get.
We are seeing some nice action in both these names today, on the back of an analyst report which is alluding to the advantages the two companies have. Now that silicon (which is the main cost component on the material side) has swooned after bottlenecks plagued the industry for 3+ years, the other main cost is labor. And you are not going to compete with the Chinese on labor costs…
Both Trina Solar (TSL) and Yingli Green Energy(YGE) shares are trading higher today following upgrades by Morgan Stanley analyst Sunil Gupta. He thinks both companies are going to take market share in the solar sector from U.S.-based and European rivals. Here are the details
First Solar (FSLR) gave an "impressive" presentation yesterday at its investor/analyst meeting about the future of its business, but it wasn’t enough to make analysts feel better about the stock.
We’ve received analyst reports morning from FBR, Deutsche Bank and Cannaccord Adams. Here’s their summaries:
Canaccord Adams downgraded from Buy to Hold with a $180 price target with a 25x multiple of its 2009 EPS estimate.
IMPACT: Modestly negative. First Solar remains the leading solar company, in our opinion; however, the company issued fairly ambitious targets with respect to the project pipeline and technology advances, and a lack of visibility into further positive catalysts remains. Additionally, the company’s business model and financial model are changing fairly significantly. As we suspected, the company’s new focus will lower GMs but likely increase income in absolute terms. While the company has finally properly set expectations, we believe that the decreasing margin profile may turn some investors off until the higher income and cash flows actually materialize.
FBR has an underperform rating with a $110 price target with 5X EV/sales and 12x EV/EBITDA, versus the its peer group (SPWRA, STP, TSL, YGE) average of 1.5x EV/sales and 8x EV/EBITDA.
We walked away from the First Solar (FSLR) analyst event impressed with the quality of presentation and the company’s long-term vision, which was communicated clearly, We continue to believe that First Solar is among a few industry leaders that have sound long-term and short-term strategies based on the realities of the industry. However, in light of the fact that the company has now publicly acknowledged that the business model is changing (revenue mix has changed from one item to three separate items), we think there is an increased probability of a capital increase (to beef up the balance sheet), while challenges remain in the near term (excess inventories, customer insolvency, tight credit market) that are the most important factors, which, in our view, will pressure the stock for the remainder of CY09. Additionally, we walked away feeling incrementally confident that the consensus estimates are too aggressive and do not reflect the realities of the industry.
Deutsche Bank maintains its hold rating raising its price target to $170 from $167, with a 20x C2010 EPS valuation.
Someone is trying to knock First Solar (FSLR) off its perch by tipping investigators that its OptiSolar acquisition might not be above board.
A private citizen told California investigators to check out the land rights First Solar said it acquired when it paid $400 million in stock for OptiSolar’s project pipeline. When the deal was announced, First Solar said it received "strategic land rights of approximately 136,000 acres." In reality, OptiSolar only had applications for the land rights.
Applications are considerably less valuable. If First Solar labeled those applications as assets, and priced them into the acquisition, then the company may be in violation of the law. At this point, it’s unclear if First Solar did or did not label them as assets. It’s also unclear if it’s illegal to price them into the deal, reports Dow Jones.
In spite of the haze around this minor infraction, it’s receiving a decent amount of coverage. Major news outlets are reporting on it as well as most energy/solar focused blogs.
Our intial reaction was that this was much ado about nothing. The Bureau Of Land Managment in California is worried about speculators paying for applications, holding them, then selling them to developers at higher prices. We don’t consider First Solar a speculator, so we thought it was long shot that they were violating the law.
While developing a project is not First Solar’s typical operating pattern, it is a direction the company is heading. In the relase announcing the OptiSolar acquisition, First Solar mentioned other construction projects it was working on. For this reason, we don’t think First Solar plans on just selling off its application permits.
We are curious about the identity of the "private citizen" that tipped investigators. After news broke that First Solar was under investigation, Earth2Tech reported that:
A couple weeks ago we received an email query from an exec at an environmental group wondering about the legality and ethics of solar maker OptiSolar incorporating yet-to-be-approved Bureau of Land Management land applications into its price when solar giant First Solar agreed to acquire the thin-film PV company back in March. I’m not sure how legal it is, I told him, but I would assume
Note from dshort: The commentary below is my standard monthly update. However, I'm taking this one with the proverbial grain of salt ... make that "road" salt. As the BLS points out in employment report FAQs, "Unusually severe weather is more likely to have an impact on average weekly hours than on employment." We see that impact in the third chart below. Next month should see a rebound in average hours per week.
Here is a look at two key numbers in today's monthly employment report for February
Average Hourly Earnings
Average Weekly Hours
The government has been tracking the data for Production and Nonsupervisory Employees for decades. But coverage of Total Private Employees only dates from March 2006.
Let's examine the broader series, which goes back far enough to show the trend since before th...
Despite stocks being at record highs, sell-side strategists proclaiming today's jobs report as great, and the Fed comfortable tapering in the face of transitory weather-related macro weakness, the following chart suggests all is not well... Echoing Irving Fisher, it appears we have reached a permanently high plateau in the duration of unemployment in America...
The Global X Social Media Index ETF (Ticker: SOCL) touched fresh record highs on Thursday morning, surprising no one given the top three holdings of the Fund are Hong Kong-based Tencent Holdings (12.678%), Facebook Inc. (12.506%) and LinkedIn Corp. (8.166%), which are up 130%, 160% and 22%, respectively, since this time last year. The SOCL reflects the performance of companies involved in the social media industry, including companies that provide social networking, file sharing and other web-based media applications. Shares in the ETF rose 1.3% today to a new high of $23.00, and have soared approximately 65% since this time last year.
Today brought three better than expected economic releases from Construction Spending, ISM Manufacturing, and Personal Income. The ISM figure was quite unexpected and Personal Income was well above expectations. If we ignore for a moment that the Final GDP reading for Q4 was lowered on Friday (which may or may not have been primarily caused by severe weather), we have had a week of better than expected economic numbers. Corporate earnings have also continued to exceed forecasts, albeit with a bit more cautious guidance.
Of course, none of that matters when the “war drums” start beating. Russia and the Ukraine are engaged in a serious game of “chicken” with a bear in the hen house. The Russian ruble has borne the brunt of the damage so far with a double digit drop today again...
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Ladies and Gentlemen, hobos and tramps,
Cross-eyed mosquitoes, and Bow-legged ants,
I come before you, To stand behind you,
To tell you something, I know nothing about.
And so the circus begins in Union Square, San Francisco for this weeks JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. Will the momentum from 2013, which carried the S&P Spider Biotech ETF to all time highs, carry on in 2014? The Biotech ETF beat the S&P by better than 3 points.
As I noted in my previous post, Biotechs Galore - IPOs and More, biotechs were rushing to IPOs so that venture capitalists could unwind their holdings (funds are usually 5-7 years), as well as take advantage of the opportune moment...
Welcome to the fouth update of the IRA Virtual Portfolio. First I am going to summarize the current state of the Portfolio then I will get into all the activity we had during September expiration.
Profit and Loss – Net of closed positions the portfolio is up a total of $769
Market Commentary – Last expiration I said, "I would like to put a total of $20,000 to work by the end of SEP expiration. If the VIX pops up to around 20 I plan to put about $50,000 total to work." The market didn't quite reach the goal but I did manage to deploy $15,000 of buying power. I still feel the market is too high and expect a correction during October. If the vix pops up to around 20 I still plan to put about $50,000 to work. If a correction doesn't happen I still plan to have a total of $25,000 in buying power put to work by October expiration. Now on to the act...
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