The Ride Gets Choppy for Power Inverters

Sometimes a high-growth business can be a land mine for investors trying to catch the upswing. Case in point: power inverters.

Massive growth in solar module installations during 2010 has led to huge growth for inverter manufacturers. But that growth hasn't translated into profits for investors who have held on through earnings season.

Earlier this month, Power-One (Nasdaq: PWER  ) posted a 157% jump in sales and earnings that topped expectations, but its shares still plunged.

A slightly different story played out at competitor Satcon Technology (Nasdaq: SATC  ) . Revenue jumped an eye-popping 237% in the fourth quarter, to $72.6 million, but still fell short of the $73.9 million analysts had expected. Earnings were even worse, with a $0.03-per-share loss disappointing analysts, who had been expecting a $0.04-per-share profit. A loss is bad news, but did shares really deserve a 27% drubbing because of one bad quarter?

This is the downside of high expectations, but there are some factors that should give investors hope for the future. Satcon's gross margins are up to 28.2% from 13.2% last year showing better operations. The market is also moving into Satcon's wheelhouse with utility-scale projects becoming a larger chunk of solar installations. Power-One has made a living on smaller projects, but Satcon could be a big winner with utility scale projects.

There will also be competition from American Superconductor (Nasdaq: AMSC  ) , which is trying to get in the solar inverter business. It will be focusing solely on utility-scale projects, but as solar grows there should be enough money to be spread around.

Inverter manufacturers are riding in the same choppy waters solar manufacturers have been navigating for years. There always seems to be something for investors to nitpick, but they continue to grow quarter after quarter. In the long run, that growth will pay off for investors, but don't expect a smooth ride.

Interested in reading more about Satcon Technology? Click here to add it to My Watchlist, and My Watchlist will find all of our Foolish analysis on this stock.

Fool contributor Travis Hoium owns shares of American Superconductor and has sold put options on the stock. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdings or follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw.

The Fool owns shares of Power-One. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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