When were panning the hell out of the solar sector earlier in the year at significantly higher share prices, we were very certain that the sector was going to be in trouble. Austerity was only a small portion of the problem. First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) was among those companies even though it is the least ugly of the dogs. Tonight on CNBC’s Mad Money it was impossible to ignore the negatives brought up by Jim Cramer as he continued to bash the solar leader.
Among the problems cited are the Solyndra blow-up, even though the Exelon (NYSE: EXC) business should be assured. Two issues Cramer cited were that Germany was something to the tune of 46% of 2010 business and France was another 14%. Cramer noted that these countries may be far less able to continue subsidizing solar panels when they have to recapitalize the banks.
We have dug around on our own this year trying to get the percentages of the current business and Europe does actually seem to be less than it was in 2010. The problem is that it is still massive and we have been unable to come up with any hopeful scenario that makes it look like First Solar can recapture its former glory.
About all that investors can hope for is that insider buying hit the tape on Thursday evening but that may be from shares surrendered and with options. The prior insiders buying shares has done nothing, other than generate losses for the insiders.
We would also bring up yet another dogging of First Solar that took place this week: Ticonderoga Securities cut the official First Solar rating down to SELL from an already cautious Neutral rating. The new price target assigned was $40.00.
We also cannot help but worry about the expanded Congressional inquiry is expanding to First Solar and SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWRA) as republicans are requesting loan guarantee details.
All investors can hope for here is that Jim Cramer being negative and that the other issues have been priced into the stock and then some. It is way too early in the alternative energy cycle for solar companies to try to sell themselves as value stocks. It used to be that solar stocks went up when oil went up, and that was why we have called solar stocks nothing more than leveraged bets on oil. Unfortunately, solar goes down when the price of oil goes up or down now.
If First Solar can meet its 2010 earnings estimates, it barely trades at 5-times expected earnings. At issue is that no one wants to believe the “E” in the P/E ratio in First Solar and the rest of the solar sector. This is a classic case of where value stocks become value traps.
First Solar closed down 0.4% at $56.85 and the 52-week trading range is $53.05 to $175.45. Shares were indicated down another 1% or so in the after-hours trading session.
Guggenheim Solar (NYSE: TAN) is the pure play solar and it actually closed up over 1% at $3.46, but to show just how bad the carnage is the 52-week trading range is $2.84 to $9.34.
JON C. OGG