Tesla, SolarCity: Alternative Energy Plays Headed in Different Directions

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Shortly after the opening bell this morning, Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) posted an all-time intra-day high of $97.12, at the end of price spike that has seen shares rise more than 60% since the all-electric car maker reported a surprise profit last Wednesday night. Even after giving back nearly $9.00 this morning, the company’s market value is $10.2 billion and shares are trading at a rich forward multiple of nearly 82.

Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, is also the chairman of SolarCity Corp. (NASDAQ: SCTY), which last night reported earnings for the second time since going public late last year. Like Tesla, since the beginning of this year the stock chart has that fabulous “hockey-stick” outline. SolarCity’s shares also rose more than 60% since Tesla announced earnings last week, and posted a post-IPO high of $39.00 just yesterday. SolarCity’s market value is around $2.6 billion and shares trade at a forward multiple that approaches infinity because the company hasn’t yet posted a profit.

SolarCity is expected to continue posting net losses through 2014. As we noted in our coverage of the company’s earnings last night, that will likely keep short interest in SolarCity’s stock fairly high. It’s around 15% as of April 30th.

One effort that may bring a substantial benefit to SolarCity is legislation currently being discussed in a Congressional committee that would allow renewable energy companies to operate as master limited partnerships (MLPs). The legislation removes the restriction currently written into the law that limits MLPs to depletable resources.

SolarCity has received private funding to purchase and install solar PV systems at no cost to the home or business owner. The company makes money by signing a long-term power purchase agreement with the owner. Being able to raise capital on the basis of future guaranteed revenue, in much the same way that a pipeline MLP now operates, could make a vital difference to the survival of SolarCity and other companies with installation operations, including First Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR), SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWR), and MEMC Electronic Materials Inc. (NYSE: WFR).

If MLPs are eventually allowed for renewable energy projects, an estimated $6 billion in new capital could become available for companies like SolarCity. That might make a big difference in the length of time it takes for the company to become profitable.