Clean Energy Focus: Wind Is Back, but Still Very Hard to Invest In

The recovery of alternative energy and clean energy may be political, and it may also be tied to what is simply a raging bull market for equities. Investors have started losing their fears that the economy will dip back into recession, and things are even seeming to be less bad in Europe of late. As solar stocks have recovered handily and outperformed the broad market in 2013, it turns out that wind power appears to be back on the table as well. The First Trust Global Wind Energy (NYSEMKT: FAN) just hit a 52-week high of $9.78 on Thursday.

Just like solar exchange traded funds (ETFs), this one has a very long way to go before the old 2008 heydays come into play. Unlike the solar ETFs, this is the only real wind ETF, and it tracks the ISE Global Wind Energy Index. While it holds about 50 stocks, most of the stocks are foreign and are only traded on local exchanges. Many of the U.S. listings are utilities, which simply are ranked by how much wind power their efforts include rather than based on their total market capitalizations.

24/7 Wall St. wanted to include a synopsis of some of the American companies that are focused on wind, although we skipped many of the larger companies included in the ETF. Most are giant utilities, and others are broader and more diversified players in materials and industrials, rather than just focused on wind.

Otter Tail Corp. (NASDAQ: OTTR) is one company in the ETF, but it is somewhat diversified. This one is about 4% from a year high, and its market cap is now more than $1.1 billion.

Zoltek Companies Inc. (NASDAQ: ZOLT) is another component of the wind ETF, and it makes strong carbon fibers used in turbines and other products. It is trading near $14.07, its 52-week range is $6.02 to $17.24, and its market cap is close to $485 million again. Note that the $15 to $16 price hurdle has acted as key resistance in 2011, 2012 and in 2013.

Capstone Turbine Corp. (NASDAQ: CPST) is also in the wind ETF, although we might say that the inclusion here is one we do not really agree with, even if we are hopeful for this company and think its microturbine operations bring great promise ahead. The share price is near $1.48, in a 52-week range is $0.73 to $1.52, and the company’s market cap is back up to $451 million.

Another company included in the wind ETF is Kaydon Corp. (NYSE: KDN), which just hit a new 52-week high of $29.34. Its market cap is now approaching $1 billion. Kaydon recently said that strong wind energy bookings offset weak military orders “supporting our view that the wind energy business has bottomed and will continue to show signs of improvement as we look a few quarters forward.”

A last wind-focused company is American Superconductor Corp. (NASDAQ: AMSC), but frankly this one remains one of the most battered and bruised of the wind power companies. At $2.55 in a 52-week range is $2.12 to $4.42, it has a market cap of almost $155 million. Its fall from grace was monumental, and we are not exactly willing to endorse this one, even if we admit that its bounce could be the highest on any good news, since it is the most battered. We would point out also that its short interest of 4.93 million shares is the highest short interest it has had since last November.

The wind ETF is dominated by foreign players, with Vestas of Denmark taking the top position, followed by Gamesa from Spain. The ETF returns will not be governed by the smaller American companies mentioned above, although the gains could easily be coincidental.

If there is one clear message here about alternative energy, clean energy, renewable energy, solar energy and wind power, it is simply that investing in U.S.-based wind power product companies is no easy task. The wind ETF offers great diversity in the sector, but many companies are much more broadly based than wind, and the key players are companies most Americans have never even heard of.

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