This Week in Solar

There's rarely a dull moment in the solar space. That makes this rapidly developing sector a very difficult one to navigate as an investor, but a fun race to watch. Let's go to the highlight (or in some cases, blooper) reel for our weekly rundown.

The big get bigger -- and better?
On Monday, LDK Solar (NYSE: LDK  ) announced a plan to build a giant new solar cell and module manufacturing facility in Anhui Province. The plant will feature one gigawatt of solar cell capacity and 500 megawatts of module manufacturing might. For some perspective, JinkoSolar's (NYSE: JKS  ) cell and module capacities are 300 megawatts each.

In last year's annual report, LDK stated that it had "no plans to expand into the production of PV cells or modules" at the time. Since then, however, the logic of vertical integration has proved too powerful for the company to ignore. Firms like JA Solar (Nasdaq: JASO  ) and ReneSola (NYSE: SOL  ) , which also used to specialize in one or two links of the solar value chain, have also begun to expand upstream or downstream -- or both.

The dark side of these expansion plans is that firms risk weighing down their balance sheets with onerous debt burdens. That's long been an issue with LDK and may also prove problematic for Suntech Power (NYSE: STP  ) , which announced an intent to move into the wafer business in its earnings report this week. The companies continually find themselves required to issue new equity at depressed prices, which kicks existing investors when they're already down. It's not a coincidence that these two firms' shares have badly lagged most solar stocks over the past year.

Got the restatement blues
Another stock that has stumbled over the past year -- especially in 2010 -- is Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ  ) . The company just reported both its first-quarter results and a set of revised fourth-quarter results, following an internal investigation into "certain sales transactions in 2009."

Often, companies' audit committees will launch these investigations upon their own discovery of irregularities, as was the case with SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWRA  ) . In this case, however, Canadian Solar was subpoenaed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Neither event has been well-received by investors, but the optics of the latter are certainly worse.

As for the restatement, fourth-quarter revenues were ratcheted down, and the bottom line now shows a loss of $15.6 million for the period compared to a profit of $14.9 million. Gross profit was overstated by 83%.

It's clearly not a happy-fun time for anyone involved with this company -- employee or investor. As for those looking at Canadian Solar stock as a beaten down value in the space, it may well be that the revenue recognition matter was an honest mistake. Still, make sure you have real insight into the culture of the company. Otherwise, I'd suggest you fish elsewhere.

The new kid on the solar block
Amid great malaise in the IPO market for new solar issues, JinkoSolar managed to come public in May. The offering set off no fireworks, but the stock has been a rocket since July. More and more analysts have gotten behind the stock, setting fairly ambitious-seeming targets that the stock has gone on to hit within weeks.

I have to give major kudos to Mark Bachman at Auriga Securities. He caught on to the value here earlier than most. In late June, with the stock around $11, Bachman called the shares of the vertically integrated (what else is new?) Chinese player "substantially undervalued," and slapped a $23 target on the stock. Those who followed his advice have netted a quick double.

I'm behind on my homework and haven't done a deep dive on Jinko yet. But I'd be curious to hear other Fools' thoughts down in the comments box.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. Suntech Power Holdings is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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