Green energy has certainly been heavily promoted as the sexy new way to self-sufficiency. Wind, ethanol, solar energy, coal – the possibility of weaning ourselves off Middle Eastern oil dependencies is an exciting new frontier. Naturally, California has been leading the rest of the states in this race by a wide margin where solar energy cell implementation is concerned.
In July, The New York Times reported that:
“A decade ago, only 500 rooftops in California boasted solar panels that harvest the sun’s energy. Today, there are nearly 50,000 solar-panel installations in the state. From 2007 to 2008, the solar capacity in California grew by a third and now represents about two-thirds of the national total.”
As solar tech demand desperately sought supply, more companies began jumping into fray hoping to claim market share.
In August, Trade King blogger BigDog weighed in, observing that indeed, Chinese companies were aggressively gaining market share by making and selling solar panels to the U.S. market for less than cost. But has undercutting been a wise move when the global economy remains so lackluster? Or has this sector become oversaturated, ripe for weeding out the weaker in favor of the stronger companies?
Market Watch seemed to be wondering the same thing:
“Solar-module prices have dropped 40% since the beginning of 2009 and almost one out of every two panels produced in 2009 will not be installed, but stored in inventory. This inventory glut will have a long-term impact on the solar business, with panels set to remain in a state of oversupply until 2012.
But more fallout is likely, just as is consolidation in the industry. Analysts estimate there are at least 200 solar companies, including startups, developing different types of solar-cell technologies.”
These comments are causing some analysts to re-weigh short term technical advantages against long term fundamentals. For example, one of the early industry darlings, First Solar (FSLR), is apparently having a few growing pains. A cautionary trading volatility note was sounded in June while earlier this week, options analyst Fred Ruffy commented:
“FSLR…suffered an 11% loss on July 31 when the company reported earnings that easily beat Street estimates, but then failed to offer adequate guidance about the future. Investors and analysts are concerned about persistent price declines and excess supply. During its last earnings call, First Solar said it initiated a rebate program designed to drive sales in Germany.”
Perhaps revisiting some short term fundamentals might provide a foundation for this increased awareness.
How fast/slow are the Accounts Receivable trends?
As the global recession continues, receivable turn times stretch out further. Analysis of 2009′s first and second quarters shows from best to worst, how much longer some companies are waiting for payment:
• JA Solar (JASO): 16% faster turn time
• Trina Solar (TSL): 5% slower
• Yingli Green Energy Holding (YGE): 7% slower
• Energy Conversion Devices (ENER): 10% slower
• Canadian Solar (CSIQ): 40% slower
How fast/slow are the Accounts Payable trends?
Slower influx of receivables can affect the turn time a company needs to make its payables, sometimes forcing companies to tap expensive short term borrowing options. Analysis of 2009′s first and second quarters shows from best to worst, how much longer it’s taking to make payments:
• Trina Solar (TSL): 8% slower
• Yingli Green Energy Holding (YGE): 12% slower
• Energy Conversion Devices (ENER): 40% slower
• JA Solar (JASO): 40% slower
• Canadian Solar (CSIQ): Twice as slow
All are relatively consistent overall with the exception of JA Solar. Further research is warranted to determine why the company managed to speed up its receivable turn time while simultaneously experiencing a slowdown in making its payments.
Are inventory holdings increasing?
Was Market Watch correct? Are inventory holdings increasing? Analysis of 2009′s first and second quarters does indeed show some fluctuations and it will be interesting to see how future earnings compare to these benchmarks.
• Yingli Green Energy Holding (YGE): 19% decrease
• Trina Solar (TSL): 12% decrease
• Canadian Solar (CSIQ): 6% increase
• JA Solar (JASO): 15% increase
• Energy Conversion Devices (ENER): 34% increase
How much accumulated debt?
Ultimately, a company’s ability to quickly change course even with slower receivable/payables or increased inventory, can be affected by its debt load. Chinese companies may have gained market share at the expense of balance sheet undercutting, but are they paying a price? How have these companies handled their short term (S/T) and long term (L/T) debt loads in the past two quarters? Is there a cause for concern ?
• Energy Conversion Devices (ENER): No S/T debt; L/T debt – no change
• JA Solar (JASO): 75% S/T debt decrease in favor of L/T debt in 2Q
• Yingli Green Energy Holding (YGE): 30% S/T debt decrease; 40% L/T debt increase
• Trina Solar (TSL): 12% S/T debt decrease; doubled L/T debt
• Canadian Solar (CSIQ): 22% S/T debt increase; 30% L/T debt increase
Reviewing these fundamentals confirm that there are still short term investing opportunities (with, perhaps, the exception of Canadian Solar). However, if consumer spending reluctance continues, long term holdings adjustments just might be the next order of business.