Blog Post

Surveyed on Cleantech, Investors say "Meh"

You might think the investment world is pinning some hope on cleantech to perform better than the rest of the market, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, only half of the investors and analysts focused on alt-energy seem to be feeling bullish on it at all.

The survey (via AltEnergyStocks) was conducted by PR giant Waggener Edstrom, which polled 81 people around the world: 47 institutional investors, 26 sell-side analysts, and another 8 who were independent researchers or others in the industry. The results suggest that the climate for alt-energy companies may improve this year, but their stock prices may not outpace the broader market.

A survey from a PR firm sounds a little suspicious on the face of it – especially since these kinds investor-sentiment surveys are often regarded by some as a contrarian indicator for stocks. But it’s worth noting because Waggoner filtered out individual investors and because there is already a sense that the whole stimulus rally may be passing already.

According to the results, just “50 percent of respondents expect alternative energy stock to outperform the broader markets in 2009, largely due to the expected impact of the Obama Administration’s energy policies. Respondents also overwhelmingly expect oil and gas prices to stabilize or increase in 2009.”

Fifty percent doesn’t seem terribly high, especially given that three fourths of the respondents expect oil prices to be higher this year. But they seemed to get even more bearish once they were asked to consider specific sectors: Only 43 percent expect wind energy and energy storage stocks to outperform, 38 percent see solar stocks outperforming and 17 percent are bullish on biofuels.

The survey showed 77 percent see lack of access to capital being a negative or very negative factor, so that might outweigh other bits of good news, such as a pro-cleantech Administration in the U.S. and more government spending abroad. As one U.S. analyst who was surveyed put it:

The reason that some of these stocks are down as much as they are is not just that demand is uncertain in the short term and there’s pricing pressure but also because some of these companies are facing extinction. Their balance sheets are weak, and they can’t get financing.

When it came to the press, respondents were even more critical. Three fourths felt journalists often blew it on important details about cleantech. Mainstream media often failed to distinguish technological feasibility from commercial viability, while the financial media tended to reflect a negative bias, respondents said.

Asked which stocks they were most bullish about, the consensus rallied behind First Solar (FSLR), SunPower (SPWRA), Vestas Wind of Denmark and Spain’s Iberdrola. Interestingly, survey respondents also selected those four companies as the best communicators. One would hope that’s just a coincidence: If investors are picking stocks based on good PR, then the market is in worse shape than we thought.