Solar Stocks Start 2009 With Bad News, But Shrug It Off

18 Comments

Hard on the heels of a brutal year for solar stocks, the early days of 2009 are so far putting out a good share of negative news: sell recommendations from research analysts, a dire outlook from LDK, and Evergreen Solar shuttering a pilot plant.

Investors, though, are shutting their ears to the bad news. Evergreen was only slightly down and LDK ended Tuesday slightly up.

Or maybe it’s the case that the brutal selloff from last year was in part pricing in the news from this week.

Monday night, LDK LDK came out with its dispiriting guidance for the quarter just ended and for the coming year. It lowered its revenue guidance in its fourth quarter from a midpoint of $560 million to $430 million. Wafer shipments will fall from 265 megawatts to 250 megawatts, and gross margins will fall from 11.5 percent to 19.5 percent.For 2009, LDK sees revenue at a midpoint of $2.4 million, down from earlier expectations of $3 billion.

Early Tuesday morning, LDK shares tumbled as much as 11 percent on that news, but what looked like a short squeeze left the stock up 1 percent on the day at $14.99.

Evergreen also had bad news – it closed its Marlboro, Mass. pilot plant on Dec. 31. Not only did Evergreen bury the news in a press release trumpeting “continued progress” at a separate plant, it neglected to mention that shutting it could cost as much as $30 million this year. That detail was saved for an SEC filing, which the Cleantech Group noticed. Update: The move was expected, but the costs disclosed – as much as $30 million, including severance for some workers – are hitting at a hard time for solar companies. Evergreen also said shipments in the fourth quarter would be at the low end of guidance. Analysts at Oppenheimer and Thomas Weisel said they see a tough road ahead for the company.

Evergreen’s stock moved down 9 percent this morning. But as with LDK, it recovered, closing the day down 1.7 percent. Considering the disclosure came after ESLR had rallied 28 percent in the previous five trading days, it held up under the bad news pretty well.

Meanwhile, some analysts stepped forward with grim forecasts for the sector this year. JPMorgan’s Christopher Blansett openly urged investors to sell solar stocks because prices of solar panels and modules would keep falling for much of the year.

Blansett warned investors not to expect a recovery in solar stocks in the event of a broader economic rebound in 2009, as solar subsidies may have peaked in 2008 when Germany and Spain primarily drove demand. He expects solar subsidies to decline significantly in this year, forcing prices to drop between 25 and 40 percent compared to last year. Finally, Blansett added that constrained credit markets could “bring the alternative energy industry to a screeching halt if access to capital is not made more available.”

While investors followed that advice with some solar issues (Solarfun fell 4 percent, SunPower 6 percent), others didn’t (Hoku rallied 8 percent, GT Solar 6 percent.) This sector an especially unpredictable, even irrational one. But for now it seems it’s remaining fairly resilient in the face of some otherwise daunting news.

18 Comments

So now you're censoring comments?

Ms Fehrenbacher,
As a further note, one of Mr Kelleher’s comments has also disappeared from the thread… the one where he thanks Steady and myself (in my ScottT guise) for our comments but stands by what he wrote. Looks like you’re having a lot of technical problems there.

So now you're censoring comments?

Ms Fehrenbacher,
Many thanks. FYI. I’ve had this technical problem 4 times on this thread. Each time the post has appeared then been removed (it has been visible both my PCs), and each time the comment was posted under the ScottT name and associated email. I am able to post the identical comment under a different name and email. I cannot post at all under ScottT. There has not been, nor will there be, any profanity in any of my posts.

Katie Fehrenbacher

@Steady,

We do not censor comments unless they contain profanity. We go to great lengths to be transparent. If there was a problem with your comment it must have been a technical one. I will check with our IT team and see if there were any technical difficulties on our end.

So now you're censoring comments?

Mr Kelleher,
Prior to the post: “So now you’re censoring comments? said on January 8th, 2009 at 8:53 am”, I had posted a similar comment several times. On each occassion it appeared on the thread and also in the Recent Comments section above-right. However, within about 5 minutes the post was removed. Since this, I have been unable to post on this site at all using the ScottT name and accompanying email address, but can post using another. If this is not censorship, what is?

In fact, I just tried again using ScottT – no post, but I bet this one will work.

Kevin Kelleher

@steady. Thanks.

@scott. I’m sorry you’re having trouble posting comments, but the accusation of censorship is a strong one. You’ve commented several times here, and others who disagreed aren’t facing the same problem.

So now you're censoring comments?

Actually ScottT, but that name has been censored for disagreeing with the author and can no longer post here.

Mr Kelleher,
Thank you for correcting your errors… not exactly standing by what you wrote, but I respect the fact that you did a little research this time and corrected the grosser inaccuracies in your story. The closure was long-planned and the plant was only ever a pilot intended for use until Evergreen’s custom-built facility was constructed. The $30m costs are trivial compared to ESLR’s $1.7b backlog of orders and the savings the pilot plant closure will produce, but I guess you need to save face with some “spin” of your own. The closure is actually very GOOD news for investors as it confirms the ramp-up at the new Devens plant, but construe it any way you wish. I do agree that solar companies are having a tough time at present (isn’t everyone) and will continue to do so until energy costs rise again.

Thanks again for the correction.

steady

Mr. Kelleher, the updated strike through text of the original article demonstrates your professionalism in updating/retracting the statement. Far better than that at hotstock.com, you have reaffirmed my trust in this site and analysis. Thank you.

Kevin Kelleher

I have clarified the story further to fix what was a careless mistake. The plant closure was planned and the costs were openly disclosed, but there are other factors that have the Street concerned. Again, I am sorry for any errors.

Kevin

So now you're censoring comments?

Mr Kelleher,
So you admit that you were incorrect in both fact and analysis but still stand by what you wrote? Did you work as a speech writer for Sarah Palin?

ScottT

Mr Kelleher,
Please at least read your comments before you post them. You admit that the central thesis of your argument, the buried news of the Marlboro plant closure, was not actually buried at all but had in fact been “scheduled for some time”. How then can ESLR’s “trumpeting “continued progress” at a separate plant” possibly be regarded as “PR spin”? As for retrenchments, how many? How much will they cost? How much will they save? Voluntary or forced? You are supposed to be a journalist. How about some actual investigation/research? Or do you rely solely on plagiarizing the work of real reporters from “Reuters, AP, etc.” Have you ever heard of primary sources or for that matter the telephone? Had you bothered to phone Evergreen Solar they would have given you actual facts for you to speculate upon! Too much like real work for you I guess.

steady

Retraction required Mr Kelleher. A simple comment acknowledging that you are “sorry” for leaving out the context is unprofessional considering the intent appears to have been to place a negative spin and not adhere to the facts. I believe it would be prudent for you to write a formal detraction of the misreporting of information as a true professional would…and not “bury” it in a comment to the piece. Also please look at the detail of the number of people who CHOSE to move to the new facility and those that did not and opted out for severance. When processes become more efficient most immediate gain is the cost savings in the reduction of staff, this is fundamental. In no way was it reported that staffing level changes were based on financial hardships. So your reference to Reuters, AP etc., are you saying you have not done any research of your own to VALIDATE this reporting?

Kevin Kelleher

I did leave out the important context that the Marlboro plant had been scheduled for some time, and I’m sorry for that. I can’t agree with many of the other comments above, however. When a plant ceases operations, it effectively shuts down whether research continues or not. Every major news organization (Reuters, AP, etc.) covering this focused on the closing of the plant, ignoring the company’s PR spin. The full amount of the costs was not fully known by investors, and some of the costs are coming from severance for jobs lost – a sign of retrenchment at a time when many analysts are bearish on this stock.

ScottT

Mr Kelleher,

Perhaps you should do just a little research before publishing your articles. Evergreen announced the planned closure of the Marlboro pilot plant at least 6 months ago. They did not “bury the news in a press release”. It was old news that anyone following Evergreen would have been aware of. The “”continued progress” at a separate plant” is actually stage 2 of an entirely new plant that is operating ahead of schedule. How you can possibly misconstrue this as bad news is well beyond me. Surely opening an new facility is good news, as is the closure of a pilot plant. Sure it costs money to close a plant, but that is much better than keeping it open when a purpose-built facility has just been constructed. As for the cost of the closure, it was forecast and published several months ago. In fact, had you actually read the Cleantech Group article you cite above you would have seen the following: “The closure doesn’t come as a surprise, as Evergreen previously said it operated at a higher cost than the 160 MW capacity Devens, Mass., facility. Shifting production there could reduce overall cash requirements, according to company officials“. I also note that you neglect to mention Evergreen’s backlog of orders of over $1.7 billion. Not bad for a company in an “unpredictable”, “irrational” sector.

Please, do at least some basic investigation before posting your articles. This is junior-high quality journalism.

BTW. How can “the brutal selloff from last year” price in “the news from this week”? Are you saying that people knew this week’s news last year? I hope they noted the lotto numbers then.

brian

Also, “shut down” is the wrong word, the plant will remain open and used as R&D, they stated this was needed because the research element conflicts with using the equipment for manufacturing product for sale. I dont think this was a surprise to anyone following this stock…

john

Mr Kelleher

Evergreen Solar’s closing of it’s Pilot plant in Massachusetts was part of a scheduled shut down and a moving to their primary production plant.

You made it sound like the closure was due some hardship in which the company faced.

I suggest you actually read the press released when reporting.

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