Is Outlook Sunny for Solar Stocks in 2013?

Photo courtesy of blog.heritage.org

Photo courtesy of blog.heritage.org

The big news for the solar industry this week came in a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association noting that “solar panel installations in the U.S. surged 76 percent in 2012.” That number was driven largely by growth in residential and commercial projects, and a boom in “larger, utility scale (solar) plants,” according to Investor’s Business Daily (http://news.investors.com/technology/031413-648050-solar-installations-up-but-forecast-slowing.htm?ven=yahoocp,yahoo).

The same report cited a slower growth forecast for 2013 of around 30 percent, “amid falling prices for solar products,” according to the IBD story, which is packed with interesting factoids about the industry:

  • Solar was installed in “nearly 83,000 homes in 2012”
  • From 2009-12, the U.S. solar industry grew at a compound annual growth rate of 82 percent
  • The forecast for solar industry growth from 2013-16 is 28 percent
  • A record 3,313 MW of solar photovoltaics were installed in 2012
  • The solar capacity that went online in 2012 “amounts to more than 40 percent of the nation’s entire existing capacity.”

So what does this mean for an investor in solar companies, many of them small caps? Apparently there’s still an oversupply globally of solar panels, prices have continued to fall “amid tech innovation, economies of scale and overcapacity, and price wars “mean manufacturers are producing panels at about half their normal capacity.” All this is bad for manufacturers but good for end-users “as the cost of using solar energy gets closer to parity with fossil-fuel energy sources.” 

Certainly investors could have done a lot worse than bet on solar stocks (particularly SPWR) since the beginning of 2013. While many have seen prices dip from highs in early February and March, a look at recent returns over the past six months shows that those who have been riding the solar wave since then have generally had a good run, although it seems to be easing up in recent weeks. The question is now, will it continue through 2013?

Here are a few of the small cap names we have been following:

San Mateo, CA-based SolarCity Corp. (Nasdaq: SCTY, http://www.solarcity.com) designs, installs and sells or leases solar energy systems to residential and commercial customers, as well as electric vehicle charging products. Back on Dec. 20, 2012, SCTY was trading for $10.67 and its run started from there. By March 6, 2013 SCTY was nearly $20. It closed March 15 at $16.74, up 14 cents for the day, with a market cap of $406.5 million. Its 52-week trading range is $9.20-$20.38.

Tempe, AZ-based First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR, http://www.firstsolar.com/), which specializes in thin-film solar modules, is not a small cap as we define it but we include it for comparison purposes. Back in late September FSLR was trading for about $20 and was as high as $36.13 in February before it fell. It closed March 15 at $26.61, down 65 cents, with a market cap of $2.2 billion. Its 52-week trading range is $11.43-$36.98.

Ontario, Canada-based Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ, http://www.canadian-solar.com/ ), which sells a variety of solar products, closed back in late September 25 at about $3 with a market cap of $130 million. It got above $5 by mid-February and then dipped like many of the others. It closed on March 15 at $3.50, down 3 cents for the day, with a market cap of $151 million. Its 52-week trading range is $1.95-$5.15.

San Jose, CA-based SunPower Corp. (Nasdaq: SPWR, http://www.sunpowercorp.com/), which makes a wide variety of solar products and systems, closed back on Sept. 25 at $4.60 with a market cap of $547 million. SPWR closed March 15 at $11.80, down 24 cents for the day, with a market cap of $1.4 billion. Its 52-week trading range is $3.71-$13.88.

China-based Trina Solar Ltd. (NYSE: TSL, http://www.trinasolar.com/) designs, manufactures and sells photovoltaic modules worldwide. Back in mid-December, TSL was trading for about $3.95, ran up to $5.81 in early January, but has tumbled since. It closed March 15 at $4.11, up 1 cent for the day, with a market cap of $291 million. Its 52-week trading range is $2.04-$8.68. 

China-based Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. (NYSE: YGE, http://www.yinglisolar.com/) makes photovoltaic products including cells, modules and systems. YGE closed back on Dec. 21 at $2.18, then ran up to $3.49 by mid-February, but it, too has been dropping since then. It closed March 15 at $2.47, up 7 cents for the day. Its market cap is now $387 million and 52-week trading range is $1.25-$4.60.

China-based Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP, http://am.suntech-power.com), the world’s largest producer of solar panels, closed at $0.92 back on Sept. 25, 2012, and then rose to $1.87 in early January, but has been falling since. STP closed March 15 at $0.70, up 3 cents for the day, with a market cap of $127 million. Its 52-week trading range is $0.41-$3.68.

St. Peters, MO-based MEMC Electronic Materials (NYSE:WFR, http://www.memc.com) manufactures and sells silicon wafers and photovoltaic materials. Through SunEdison, it’s a developer of solar energy products. In early November, WFR was trading as low as $2.18 and then hit a recent high of $5.66 in mid-February. It closed March 15 at $4.53, down 24 cents for the day, with a market cap of $1 billion. Its 52-week trading range is $1.44-$5.70.

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Large Cap Siemens AG Leaves Solar Business to ‘Specialized Companies’

Citing “sinking prices and  cutbacks in government support for solar-thermal projects,” Siemens AG announced this week that it was exiting from the solar power business but would continue its alternative energy focus on wind and hydro power, according to several newspapers including the Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203406404578072493375180894.html?KEYWORDS=siemens+vanessa for subscribers). The much publicized austerity measures throughout Europe, the glut of solar panels that have devastated market prices for panels and cutbacks in solar-thermal projects all played a role in this decision, the WSJ reported. 

Photo courtesy of Siemens AG

It was just three years ago that Siemens paid $418 million for Israel-based Solel Solar Systems as well as a stake in Italy-based Archimede Solar Energy, according to the WSJ report. The solar announcement comes on the heels of Siemens previous decision to shelve its nuclear power ventures.

Michael Suss, a Siemen energy division head, suggested that “only specialized companies” will thrive in today’s solar market. Siemens was focused on solar-thermal technology, “which unlike solar panels, uses the sun’s rays to heat water in large-scale projects, turning it into steam” to generate electricity.” the WSJ report noted. Siemens is apparently in talks to sell off the solar division of its business.

It was only a month ago we took a look at a few small cap solar stocks (call them “specialized companies”), which back then were struggling with many of the same issues as giant Siemens (73.5 billion Euros in annual revenues during its last fiscal year) and trying to keep from being delisted by Nasdaq and the NYSE. So let’s see what’s happened since.

Tempe, AZ-based First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR, http://www.firstsolar.com/), which specializes in thin-film solar modules, is not a small cap but we include it anyway. FSLR closed Sept. 25 at $20.51. FSLR closed Oct. 23 at $23.31, down 49 cents, with a market cap of $2 billion.

Ontario, Canada-based Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ, http://www.canadian-solar.com/ ), which sells a variety of solar products, closed Sept. 25 at $3.01 with a market cap of $130 million. CSIQ closed Oct. 23 at $2.61, up 1 cent, with a market cap of $112.6 million.

San Jose, CA-based SunPower Corp. (Nasdaq: SPWR, http://www.sunpowercorp.com/), which makes a wide variety of solar products and systems, closed Sept. 25 at $4.60 with a market cap of $547 million. SPWR closed Oct. 23 at $4.34, down 4 cents, with a market cap of $516 million.

China-based LDK Solar Co. (NYSE: LDK, http://www.ldksolar.com/) manufactures solar products and silicon materials. LDK closed Sept. 25 at $1.25 with a market cap of $167 million. LDK closed Oct. 23 at $0.88 with a market cap of $117 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 in the summer of 2011. TSL closed Sept. 25 at $4.47 with a market cap of $316 million. TSL closed Oct. 23 at $4.42, up 12 cents, with a market cap of $312 million.

China-based Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. (NYSE: YGE, http://www.yinglisolar.com/), which makes photovoltaic products including cells, modules and systems, closed Sept. 25 at $1.74 with a market cap of $272 million. YGE closed Oct. 23 at $1.72, up1 cent, with a market cap of $269 million.

China-based Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP, http://am.suntech-power.com), the world’s largest producer of solar panels, closed at $0.92 on Sept. 25. STP closed Oct. 23 at $0.85, up 3 cents, with a market cap of $154 million.

Q/A with Philip Lawes, Founder and President of Insoltech Solar

Philip Lawes, founder and president of Laguna Beach, CA-based Insoltech Solar, has been in the solar power business for 34 years. He is a designer and consultant for renewable power systems such as solar photovoltaic systems. Although based in Southern California, Lawes has installed renewable energy systems in various parts of the world including the Caribbean, Mexico and the South Pacific, as well as in the California desert areas.

Smallcapworld: How did you get into the solar business way back in the 1970s and what was your first solar job?

Solar farm photo courtesy KCOY.comChannel 12

Lawes: It was a solar hot water system. That’s all there was back then in the late 1970s that was financially viable. Solar power has been around for a long time. The photovoltaic cell was developed by Bell Labs and the first applications were for space and to power communications satellites. But it really kicked off during the second energy crisis in 1978. Saudi Arabia basically cut off all our oil and gas prices skyrocketed. Remember the long lines and high gas prices? There was an “energy crisis” and everyone started looking for alternative energy sources. President Carter helped boost the solar business by creating large financial incentives through generous tax breaks.

Q: Which companies were making the solar panels back then?

A: A lot of companies got into it, but they were mostly small companies, many based in Europe, making solar thermal collectors. It was mostly about heating water to reduce natural gas bills and in some cases electric bills, if you had electric heating.

Q: When did you get into photovoltaics?

That would be in the 1980s. I did a lot of work in Baja California, in and around Cabo San Lucas. I worked for expats in the area, for their small palapas and for pumping water on their ranches, for their cattle or other needs. The idea was to generate electricity in remote areas where utility power was not available and the cost to run diesel-powered generators was prohibitive.

Q: Tell us about some of your other projects.

A: I built a solar electric system for a small resort called Papageno in Fiji. Just a few years ago I also designed and built a solar electric system for Johnny Depp for his private island in the Bahamas. I was also a subcontractor for a 1.3 million watt system for the Twenty-Nine Palms Marine Corps base in the California desert. And I built a small solar energy water pumping system for the Irvine Company here in Southern California to provide water for an endangered species. We are working on a custom home in Shady Canyon now, an exclusive area of the Irvine Ranch.

Q: There are many different types of solar arrays now available. Which are best for the average homeowner?

A: The typicial, flat-plate, mono- or poly-crystalline solar modules are still the workhorses of the industry. They are scalable, maintenance free and offer excellent warantees and still the best route for average homeowners. Thin film modules are not as efficient so they require more area. And companies are still having problems getting the manufacturing process down. People got into thin film because they thought they could manufacture them cheaply but that hasn’t really happened yet. And no one anticipated that the standard modules would come down in price so much.

Q: Are there American companies that are able to compete with the Chinese in the manufacture of solar modules?

A: Oh sure. FirstSolar is a thin film manufactuer, the only really successful thin film manufacturer. SunPower is an American company and has a very efficient module built with great technology but they manufacture offshore, primarily in the Phillipines. Helios is based in Wisconsin and has been successful making solar modules. But there has been, and will continue to be, lots of attrition. Some companies are even selling their modules at a loss.

Q: Why do some companies like Helios succeed, while others like Evergreen Solar and Solyndra fail?

A: Solyndra stepped out of the box and tried a very different approach and ultimately had too many problems. Their idea was to build little glass cylinders with thin film cells inside. They were light weight and didn’t require ballasting, but I believe they had a lot of breakage and lots of other problems in production. Ultimately, they didn’t anticipate the dramatic decrease in price of today’s standard workhorse mono- and poly-crystalline modules. Evergreen had a different approach, called ribbon technology. My take is that they couldn’t approve on the efficiency of the modules enough, couldn’t get enough volume going and couldn’t compete with the big guys from China and Germany. Helios is successful so far, but who knows, we could read tomorrow that they are in trouble. But they do provide the old standard modules people want and a lot of people just want to buy American only, which helps them. I think SunPower makes the highest efficiency module of all.

Q: You say you helped do an installation at a Marine base. Why is the military getting into solar?

A: There have been mandates from the Department of Defense, one of the largest if not the largest user of electricity in the country, and they are looking for ways to do things cheaper.  In many cases these military installations are out in the middle of nowhere and it’s a cheaper alternative than using diesel generators. They also want to be autonomous, and have security. That’s why they are also looking at biofuels. They want to use stuff we grow ourselves instead of relying on outside sources. 

Q: How is solar power progressing in other countries, like the emerging parts of the world?

A: The emerging nations are finally beginning to grasp the value of renewable energy. Cuba has lots of solar, so do the Virgin Islands, and Hawaii as well because they have to import their fuel. Many parts of the world don’t have coal, natural gas or hyro power. It’s all about diesel-fired generators. It’s all about what they call grid parity. That’s the holy grail. If you can product power at a lesser cost than what they charge. Grid parity is now in places like the Bahamas, but it all depends on the particular area.

Q: How long does it take the average residential installation to pay for itself in terms of decreased or eliminating energy bills?

That really depends on your location. There are so many variables like which utility is in the area and what the rates are and what rebate programs they offer. In Southern California, with large homes and large usage like the tier 4 and tier 5 users, it’s about 5-7 years. But in places like Hawaii that doesn’t have coal-powered plants or hydro and electricity is very expensive, but there’s plenty of sun, the payback can be quicker.

Q: What are the chief maintenance problems with a home system? Do you need to have special insurance to cover the installation on the roof?

My main expertise here is California, which doesn’t have extra insurance, in fact they make it mandatory to not charge extra insurance. But as California goes, so goes the rest of the country, typically. The chief maintenance problem is keeping the modules clean. Again, that depends on where you live. Actually, it’s easier on the East Coast where they get more rain. In California, where it can go months without rain, it can be difficult to keep them clean, particularly if you live near a construction area that is generating lots of dust. It’s good to wash them every few months. Have a window washer do it if you can.

Struggling Solar Stocks at Risk of Being Delisted

The announcement this week that China-based Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP), which bills itself as “the world’s largest producer of solar panels,” is at risk of being delisted by the New York Stock Exchange, cannot be good news for the solar industry. The announcement came about a month after Suntech founder Zhengrong Shi surprised analysts by stepping down as CEO. He remains Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer.

Suntech stock, which was trading for $2 the last time we checked in May, closed Sept. 25 at $0.92, down 9 cents for the

Photo courtesy of nrel.gov

day. Per NYSE rules, Suntech has six months following the NYSE warning (which came Sept. 10) to get its average stock price back up over $1 over a 30-day period.

China-based JA Solar (Nasdaq: JASO), which bills itself as “China’s largest solar-cell maker,” is also being threatened with a delisting. JASO announced Sept. 24 that it is seeking to strengthen its balance sheet by buying back $89.2 million of its debt. It last closed above $1 on Aug. 28. JASO closed Sept. 25 at $0.85, no change for the day.

This gloomy news prompted us to take a look at several other solar stocks we have followed in the past. They include:

 Tempe, AZ-based First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR, http://www.firstsolar.com/), which specializes in thin-film solar modules, has bounced back from its year-long slide. FSLR traded as high as $142 during the summer of 2011, but fell down to $13.66 when we last checked in May. FSLR closed Sept. 25 at $20.51, 49 cents on the day.

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. Back in summer 2011 CSIQ traded for more than $12 but by last May it had dropped to $2.70 with a market cap of $117 million. CSIQ closed Sept. 25 at $3.01, up 2 cents on the day. It’s market cap is now $130 million.

San Jose, CA-based SunPower Corp. (Nasdaq: SPWR, http://www.sunpowercorp.com/) makes a wide variety of solar products and systems. SPWR stock in mid-May was trading for about $5. SPWR closed Sept. 25 at $4.60, down 14 cents on the day. Its market cap is now $547 million.

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 2011, dropped down to $2.85 in mid-May with a market cap of $373 million. It closed Sept. 25 at $1.25, down 4 cents on the day. Its market cap is now $167 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 in the summer of 2011. Since we have been watching it carefully, we have seen in close in August 2011 at $15.88, in December 2011 it had dropped to $7.39 and by mid-May 18 it was down to $5.70 with a market cap of $464 million. It closed Sept. 25 at $4.47, up 7 cents for the day. Its market cap is now $316 million.

China-based Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. (NYSE: YGE, http://www.yinglisolar.com/) makes photovoltaic products including cells, modules and systems. YGE closed in mid-May 18 at $2.52. It closed Sept. 25 at $1.74, up 5 cents for the day. Its market cap is now $272 million.

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.

Solar Stocks May Be Struggling but Industry Is Creating Jobs

The solar industry in the U.S. may be struggling in a market laden with cheaper Chinese imports but you can’t say it isn’t creating jobs. In a report out this week, the The Solar Foundation, a non-profit, “non-lobbying organization” dedicated to increasing the adoption of solar energy (http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/), released its second annual review of the nation’s solar workforce, noting that hiring in the solar industry is increasing and and the industry now employs “more than 100,000 Americans.”  And employment in the industry is expected to grow by 24 percent in the next year, creating 24,000 jobs, according to the report, titled “National Solar Jobs Census 2011: A Review of the U.S. Solar Workforce.” 

 
The report also noted that the solar industry is increasing jobs nearly 10 times faster than the rest of the economy as a whole. The solar industry’s job growth rate as of August was 6.8 percent compared to the estimated overall economy rate of 0.7 percent. The report included more than 17,198 solar sites and 100,237 solar jobs in August nationwide.
 
The Los Angeles Times led its Business section Oct. 17 with the report because one in every four solar jobs is held by a Californian (http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-solar-jobs-20111017,0,3230671.story). Of the 100,237 solar jobs nationwide, an estimated 25,575 were in California. The next state in the rankings was Colorado, well back of California  with 6,186 solar jobs, followed by Arizona with 4,786. Then came Pennsylvania (4,703), New York (4,279), Florida (4,224), Texas (3,346), Oregon (3,346), New Jersey (2,871) and Massachusetts (2,395).
 
The other big solar-related news of the week was a trade complaint filed by a group of seven American solar panel makers accusing China of “receiving unfair government subsidies and dumping its products in the United States at below cost,” according to a report in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/21/business/chinese-solar-trade-case-has-clear-targets-not-obvious-goals.html?_r=1).
 
None of this seemed to stop the slide in stock prices of solar panel manufacturers which has been going on for months. Among the larger caps, Tempe, AZ-based First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR, http://www.firstsolar.com/), the world’s largest maker of thin-film solar modules, rallied on Oct. 20, up $1.46 to $53.77. But this is a stock that has been as high as $175 this year and was more than $100 as recently as Aug. 31.
 
Some of the smaller caps included:
 
China-based Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP, http://www.suntech-power.com/), a smallcap with a $373 million market cap which makes photovoltaic products and provides construction services, closed on Oct. 20 at $2.07. This stock was trading for $5.25 on Aug. 31 and $2.64 on Sept. 23.

Ontario, Canada-based Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ, http://www.canadian-solar.com/), which sells a variety of solar products, closed Oct. 20 at $3.04, down 16 cents for the day. CSIQ was trading for $6.74 on Aug. 31 and $4.72 Sept. 23.

China-based LDK Solar Co. (NYSE: LDK, http://www.ldksolar.com/), which manufactures solar products and silicon materials, closed Oct. 20 at $3, down 13 cents for the day. This stock was trading at $5.71 on Aug. 31 and $3.40 Sept. 23.

China-based Trina Solar Ltd. (NYSE: TSL, http://www.trinasolar.com/), which designs, manufactures and sells photovoltaic modules worldwide, closed Oct. 20 at $7.15, down 17 cents for the day. It closed at $15.88 on Aug. 31.

Shanghai-based JA Solar Holdings Co. (Nasdaq: JASO, http://www.jasolar.com), which makes solar cells and other solar products, closed Oct. 20 at $2.14. It closed Aug. 31 at $3.66.

 

With Solar Power’s Future So Bright, Which Solar Stocks Are Oversold?

All the noise about the bankruptcy of privately-held Solyndra, despite the reported $535 million federal loan guarantee, could lead some to think that the solar industry is in trouble. That would, of course, be spectacularly wrong.

While shares in the publicly-traded solar equipment makers have been falling since Aug. 31, the day the bankruptcy was announced, the future of solar power has never been brighter, according to many experts including NRG President and CEO David Crane. He told Jim Cramer on CNBC Sept. 20 that while price of solar panels has dropped “precipitiously…within three to four years, the cost of solar power in at least half of the states in the U.S. will be less than drawing power off the grid.” Crane also added that solar panels represent “a billboard for what you stand for as a business owner. NRG is working with the Washington Redskins to build a 2 megawatt solar installation and solar plug-in stations in the parking lot of their stadium.

As has been noted recently, the problems Solyndra experienced were unique to the company and solar panel equipment makers in general. Basically, its solar panels were too expensive and cost more to install than its competitors. Yahoo News reported that the price for solar panels has dropped by about 42 percent this year alone due to, you guessed it, competition from China.

The problem with picking solar stocks, particularly the solar panel and equipment makers, will be finding which of the group will survive and enjoy the promising future of solar power. Let’s take a look at the stocks of several solar equipment makers and see what they have done since Aug. 31, the day the long anticipated Solyndra bankruptcy became official. They have all fallen sharply, but have they been oversold? If so, which ones?

One of the larger solar companies Tempe, AZ-based First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR, http://www.firstsolar.com/), the world’s largest maker of thin-film solar modules with a $6.5 billion market cap, hit a four-year low Sept. 22, dropping all the way down to $66.85, then “rallied” on Sept. 23 to $70.24. First Solar’s most immediate problem is apparently its own federal loan program, which is facing new scrutiny due to Solyndra’s problems. FSLR sold for more than $100 as recently as Aug. 31 but has been mostly falling since that day when it lost $1.95 and closed at $99.98.

China-based Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP, http://www.suntech-power.com/), which makes photovoltaic products and provides construction services, was trading for $5.25 on Aug. 31. On Sept. 23 it closed at $2.64, down 7 cents for the day.

Ontario, Canada-based Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ, http://www.canadian-solar.com/), which sells a variety of solar products, was trading for $6.74 on Aug. 31. It closed Sept. 23 at $4.72, up 31 cents on the day.

China-based LDK Solar Co. (NYSE: LDK, http://www.ldksolar.com/) manufactures solar products and silicon materials. On Aug. 31 it closed at $5.71 and by the close of market Sept. 23 it had dropped to $3.40, down 7 cents on the day.

China-based Trina Solar Ltd. (NYSE: TSL, http://www.trinasolar.com/) designs, manufactures and sells photovoltaic modules worldwide. Its closing price Aug. 31 was $15.88, while on Sept. 21 it closed at about half that price, or $7.69, up 25 cents.

Shanghai-based JA Solar Holdings Co. (Nasdaq: JASO, http://www.jasolar.com) makes solar cells and other solar products. It closed the trading day Aug. 31 at $3.66. On Sept. 21 it closed at $2.20, up 10 cents on the day.