This Week in Solar

It's been another tumultuous week for solar, but what's new in this industry? Without much in the way of earnings news solar stocks were left to fall this week.

But there was some news in the solar industry so let's wrap up the week with the latest from solar.

The never-ending earnings season
JA Solar (Nasdaq: JASO  ) released earnings this week and showed a slight improvement over previous quarters. Revenue came in at $254.4 million, down from $309.0 million in the fourth quarter, and net loss was $39.8 million or $0.20 per share. Gross margin, the proxy I've used to judge the health of solar manufacturers, improved to 2.1% from 0.5% in the fourth quarter. This is still well below that of Chinese leaders Suntech Power (NYSE: STP  ) , Yingli Green Energy (NYSE: YGE  ) , and Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL  ) , but at least it isn't negative like some competitors'.

Where JA Solar stands out from competitors is on the balance sheet where $676 million in cash offsets $852 million in debt (including long-term liabilities due in one year).

Italy back in play
Apparently Italy is reconsidering the cap it recently put in place on solar installations. The country is reportedly talking about lifting its cap for solar incentives to 759 million euros from 500 million euros under pressure from the industry and the EU. Italy was the second-largest market in the world last year so any expansion in solar there would be a good thing for the industry.

Solar and smartphones collide
If you have a smartphone you know what a pain in the butt it can be to keep it charged, especially when the battery is nearing the end of its useful life. Well, Ascent Solar released a product this week that could solve those problems with the EnerPlex Solar Charger. The current model is made for Apple's iPhone and acts as a case with an auxiliary charger.

One product doesn't make a trend but with our society going mobile and most devices needing a charge I think we'll start to see a lot more products like this.

Stock of the week
I know that First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR  ) has become extremely unpopular with investors but I think it's time to take another look at this stock. The company has a $1.1 billion market cap, $664 million in cash and equivalents, and $864 million in debt. But there's some value there when you consider that it holds over $850 million in accounts receivable, $123 million in balance of system parts for solar installations, and another $582 million in inventory.

I don't like First Solar's strategic position, but the company has over $3 billion in tangible stockholders' equity. That sounds like a buy to me.

Irony of the week
As Mitt Romney goes around bashing President Obama over failures like Solyndra, he experienced an ironic turn of events this week. Konarka, a thin-film solar manufacturer based in Massachusetts, of which Romney was governor, filed for bankruptcy protection this week. The company was a recipient of $1.5 million in state loans in a $15 million green-energy fund the presidential candidate ran in his time in office.

The scale of the Konarka investment is different than that of Solyndra, but I'm sure Romney hopes the word doesn't get out to the lame-stream media.

With most of the manufacturing of solar modules moving to China it seems like U.S. manufacturing is dead. But there are some companies turning this trend around and they can be found in our report called "The Future Is Made in America."

Hopefully next week I won't have to cover another solar bankruptcy in America. Until then...

Fool contributor Travis Hoium manages an account that owns shares of Apple. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdings or follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of First Solar and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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