This is a sleuthing job that I first posted about six months ago, but it appears to be making a comeback. I’ve gotten dozens of emails about this one, so I thought I’d put it out there for all the new(ish) readers. The price of this stock spiked dramatically at the end of last year, right when seemingly all the solar stocks went nuts, but has since come down by 50% or so from the highs and is trading quite near where it was when the teaser first started circulating.
Now, with the teaser circulating again and all of the solar stocks getting hurt by Suntech Power’s miss, is this one you want to check out? It’s probably not where I’d go for a solar investment, but I’m sure we’d like to hear your thoughts, too.
Here’s the original writeup — I haven’t updated anything:
“All across America, homeowners and businesses alike are slashing their energy costs by switching to a power system and running their meters backwards.”
That’s the promise of this teaser stock, from Green Chip Stocks — it’s supposed to be the best publicly traded way to benefit from the SB-1 law in California (and similar laws in other states).
What is this law, you say? I’m glad you asked. It’s the one that requires utilities to purchase power for the grid from their customers — so, if you decide to install a solar panel on your roof, and it produces more power than you use in any given hour, your eletricity meter will run backwards and the utility will have to pay you for your surplus electricity. This is a fairly common way, along with direct subsidies and tax breaks, of subsidizing solar power.
And in California, apparently, they’ve gone a bit further (as they are wont to do), adding a requirement that new homes built after 2011 include a standard option of installed solar panels. Perhaps they’ll even have worked off the unsold inventory of speculative homes in the state by then.
The colorful teaser language about the utility companies gnashing their teeth and going broke is, perhaps, a bit of an overstatement — most of California, especially Southern California, is desperate for new power supplies but unable, due to strict local regulation, to add more natural gas power plants (or, God forbid, coal). So really, the utilities probably breathe a sigh of relief that here’s one bit of power they don’t have to buy on the wholesale spot market at usurious rates. That’s just my conjecture, I’m no expert on the wholesale power market, unfortunately.
We hear and see teasers and touts for solar companies all the time — mostly solar panel manufacturers like Suntech or Sunpower, but also polysilicon suppliers like LDK and MEMC Electronics, and specialty names like World Water and Power. The list is extremely long, particularly among Chinese manufacturers who are all trying to ride on Suntech Power’s coattails.
But this teaser is a little different — it’s for an installation company, what Jeff Siegel at Green Chip Stocks calls the only publicly traded solar power installation company.
Is that true? Hard to say, what with all the different companies that provide this service as at least part of their business, and the large number of publicly traded but unlisted companies trying to get investors’ attention. But we’ll take him at his word for now.
So what clues do we get for this one, aside from the fact that they’re a publicly traded installer of solar power systems?
Got a Nasdaq listing on September 24.
Under $10 a share.
Insiders own about half the shares, and institutions own almost none.
Market cap somewhere around $220 million.
Find out why TradeKing.com was ranked #1 Discount Broker by SmartMoney (August 2006).
“they control the largest solar markets in America–California, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey–and you get the picture. This stock is a Roman candle about to be lit.”
OK, so that last part wasn’t a clue — but I thought you might need a juicy reminder of how exciting they think this one is, to keep you reading.
He essentially argues that this company should boom because of institutional buying in the months ahead, largely because this stock provides a “new angle” on solar investments — we’ve seen polysilicon manufacturers and panel makers boom, now it’s apparently time for the installers to ride the wave. Or something like that.
So what is this little company, that Jeff Siegel says he recommended as an OTC stock at $3 a share?
The Thinkolator spits and sputters a bit as we discover that this firm is …
Akeena Solar (AKNS)
All the clues fit, and they are a publicly traded solar installer — though the shares have come down slightly from their highs of a few days ago, so now at $8.50 a share the market cap is nearer an even $200 million.
They do specialize in just what Jeff was teasing, primarily building largish grid-conected solar installations for wealthy people and businesses (including farms and wineries, which have been big customers for this kind of work in California). I wouldn’t expect to see them working on the panels for your three bedroom ranch in the suburbs, but perhaps they take all kinds.
This actually intrigues me a little bit, because if they can build up their capacity quickly enough and establish a national brand, it seem to me that they may have a chance to be the Sears/Maytag of solar installations … I have no idea whether or not that will work, of course, and I don’t know whether other folks are aiming at the same market with equal branding and breadth, which is certainly possible. But it’s a thought.
My favorite part of the email, though, is this:
“Now, I was taught at Agora that the time to invest in a stock or industry is when nobody is talking about it. You sell it when everybody is talking about it … And that’s why I’m writing to you today.”
Seriously? I guess there’s some possible argument to be made that no one is talking about this company, or that it doesn’t get the attention it deserves — but it did double in the past month thanks to the new Nasdaq listing, and, as regards the broader industry, if you’re investing in solar power and want to say that you’re going against the herd, you really need a time machine. The time to buy these stocks if you wanted to be a contrarian was 2004, before anyone was comfortable with $50 oil, let alone $80 oil, and before massive subsidies for civilian solar power started to catch investors’ attention.
This is an interesting company — the insiders really do control it, with nearing 50% of the shares, most of them in the hands of co-founder and CEO Barry Cinnamon. Lots of those shares appear to be a result of stock grants or other similar compensation — I didn’t note any big open market insider buying (meaning, they own a lot of shares but they’re not necessarily buying shares with their own money at the moment).
But of course, it’s also no slam dunk — the firm is far from profitable. They’re trading at a price/sales ratio of about 8, which may or may not be significant at the moment depending on what their sustainable sales growth rate is. More importantly to me, they can’t make a profit at their current level of sales — so I’d want to look into this a bit more and understand when a profit might be likely, and what kind of profit margins the company might have when it does turn profitable (right now, it’s losing about 20 cents on every dollar of sales, which obviously doesn’t keep a company going for very long).
It’s obviously a growth business, and their sales did grow at well over 100% in the last year, but my impression is that this kind of business (installation work, often competitively bid) also tends to often be competitive and low margin, even when it is profitable, so I’d want to have a fairly good understanding of the landscape — I know these guys are the major publicly traded players in installation, but are they fighting with a dozen smaller or local installers in every market to get each sale? Or are there other big installation companies that aren’t publicly traded?
Bottom line on this one? Interesting, and kudos to Jeff Siegel at Green Chip for coming up with a stock I’d never heard of … but I’m not completely convinced, and I’m not thrilled about the fact that the shares are twice as expensive as they were a month ago. Feel free to convince me, either way, by sharing a comment below.
full disclosure: I do own shares of MEMC Electronic Materials as of this writing, but not of any other company mentioned here.