Solar Stock Winners Hard to Find following Tariff News on Chinese Solar Panels

For the U.S.-based solar power industry, the news on May 17 was what many panel manufacturers had been looking for: the U.S. Commerce Department announced it was slapping a high tariff on solar panels from China (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/business/energy-environment/us-slaps-tariffs-on-chinese-solar-panels.html?ref=business).

While it was certain to “infuriate” Chinese officials, according to the New York Times, just how good the news was for the industry was hard to tell. More importantly for our blog, what does this decision to impose antidumping tariffs of more than 31 percent on solar panels from China mean for solar stocks? Based on the early reactions of the stock market and the fact that the overall market has been hit so hard in recent days, the results are difficult to read.

First, however, some of the fine print. This is a preliminary decision , not set in stone, and it won’t actually go into effect until October, if at all. There is some talk that it would be retroactive to February 2012, however.

Second, solar panel manufacturers based in Taiwan, like AU Optronics Corp., which has become a big player in the thin film solar panel business, won’t be affected. Third, some of the Chinese manufacturers like Trina Solar (which has moved its manufacturing outside of China and won’t be affected) and Yingli announced that their retail prices would not be affected by the tariff. So it will be interesting to watch what the Commerce Department actually does, what it all actually means and how the market reacts.

In the meantime, here are how some randomly chosen solar stocks closed on Friday, May 18, a day after the news broke. If there were real winners, like U.S.-based First Solar and SunPower, it was hard to tell by stock price.  Most of the China-based companies took an initial hit, but then stabilized.

Tempe, AZ-based First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR, http://www.firstsolar.com), which specializes in thin-film solar modules, continues a drastic slide that began a year ago. Many insiders say their costs are  just too high and margins too low to stop the decline. FSLR, which traded as high as $142 last summer, has fallen all the way down to small cap territory. It closed May 18 at $13.66, down $1.26 for the day. It’s market cap is only $1.2 billion.

Ontario, Canada-based Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ, http://www.canadian-solar.com ), which sells a variety of solar products, has seen its stock price stabilize since December. Last summer CSIQ traded for over $12 but by late August it had dropped to about $6.75. It closed May 18 at $2.70, down 25 cents on the day. Market cap is now $117 million.

San Jose, CA-based SunPower Corp. (Nasdaq: SPWR, http://www.sunpowercorp.com) makes a wide variety of solar products and systems. Like the rest of the industry, SPWR stock is now trading near the bottom of its 52-week range ($4.94-$23.36) and its market cap has dropped to $601 million. SPWR closed May 18 at $5.08, down 51 cents on the day.

China-based Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP, http://www.suntech-power.com/), makes photovoltaic products and provides construction services. STP stock tanked on the news, tried to rally back briefly early in the day May 18, but ultimately closed at $2.00, down 13 cents on the day.

China-based LDK Solar Co. (NYSE: LDK, http://www.ldksolar.com/)) manufactures solar products and silicon materials. LDK, which was trading for nearly $5 in late December, closed May 18 at $2.85, down 6 cents on the day. Its 52-week range is $2.54-$7.90 and its market cap is $373 million.

China-based Trina Solar Ltd. (NYSE: TSL, http://www.trinasolar.com/)) designs, manufactures and sells photovoltaic modules worldwide. It has a chart similar to many of the other solar stocks, which reached highs last summer but have been sliding for the most part since. It closed last Aug. 31 at $15.88 and by Dec. 23 it had dropped to $7.39. It closed May 18 at $5.70, down 38 cents on the day. Market cap is now $464 million.

China-based Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. (NYSE: YGE, http://www.yinglisolar.com) makes photovoltaic products including cells, modules and systems. YGE’s 52-week range of $2.75-$9.85 and its market cap is now $396 million. Like most of the other solar stocks, its best days were last summer. It closed May 18 at $2.52, down 28 cents on the day.

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