At The Motley Fool, we poke plenty of fun at Wall Street analysts and their endless cycle of upgrades, downgrades, and "initiating coverage at neutral." So you might think we'd be the last people to give virtual ink to such "news." And we would be -- if that were all we were doing.

But in "This Just In," we don't simply tell you what the analysts said. We'll also show you whether they know what they're talking about. To help, we've enlisted Motley Fool CAPS, our tool for rating stocks and analysts alike. With CAPS, we track the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and brightest -- and its worst and sorriest, too.

And speaking of the best ...
The solar rout continues. Hard on the heels of multiple downgrades for First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) Friday, we find one of the best stock pickers on the planet turning negative on the solar industry Monday morning, and Barclays issuing downgrades for ... well, basically for everybody other than First Solar.

Suntech Power (NYSE:STP) and Yingli Green Energy (NYSE:YGE) both lost their overweight ratings this morning, downgraded to equal weight. Adding injury to insult, Barclays also slashed its price targets on the stocks by 25% and 42% (to $12 and $11, respectively).

For LDK Solar (NYSE:LDK), Barclays downgraded it to underweight and cut the price target in half, to $4. But the cruelest cut of all was for Evergreen Solar (NASDAQ:ESLR). Barclays recommends underweighting the stock (read: sell) and predicted that Evergreen will end the year in penny-stock territory, priced at just $0.50 per stub.

Is it time to panic yet?
In a word: Yes. It was bad enough when middling analysts like ThinkEquity and Merriman began panning solar last week, but now we've got the big guns unloading on the industry. ThinkEquity ranks in the top quartile of investors tracked by CAPS, while Merriman sits in the bottom quintile, but Barclays holds a position in the top 10% and a reputation as one of Wall Street's very best stock pickers.

Sure, Barclays has made a few mistakes in its past solar calls:



Barclays Says:

CAPS Says :

Barclays' Picks
Lagging S&P by:

MEMC Electronic (NYSE:WFR)



39 points

First Solar



29 points




14 points

But overall, its record looks pretty good on these kinds of companies. Within the electrical equipment sector, Barclays only breaks even with 50-50 accuracy (better than many of its peers can claim), but when picking semiconductors and semiconductor equipment stocks -- the building blocks of most solar plays -- Barclays scores a more impressive 72% for accuracy. Across the two sectors combined, Barclays has racked up a combined 745 percentage points worth of market outperformance on its picks.

Yowza indeed. Given its record, investors in the four stocks downgraded today (again, that's Suntech and Yingli, LDK and Evergreen) should give serious consideration to whether they want to keep owning these companies.

But what's even more interesting than today's downgrades, I suspect, is the one company Barclays did not downgrade: The one that lower-ranked analysts ThinkEquity and Merriman downgraded on Friday: First Solar.

Good news at First Solar ... eclipsed?
By now you've heard the news on First Solar. The company beat Street estimates last week, but its guidance for the second half of the year was way lower than analysts had expected, sparking a sharp sell-off in shares. Given the news, and in light of the fact that everyone else is selling, don't you find it curious that Barclays isn't joining the other lemmings in pushing First Solar off the cliff?

I do. And I suspect we can find the reason in yet another analyst's report (we don't call 'em lemmings for nothing;there's a million of these guys). Last week, the smart solar operators at Hapoalim Securities issued an update on solar pricing. Turns out, there's plenty of fodder for solar bears in there -- module prices are down 8% to 10% in comparison with this time last year and are expected to drop another 5% in the second half.

Interestingly, though, Hapoalim thinks thin-film prices could hold firm in the second half. Hapoalim further praises First Solar for generating strong cash flow in Q4, helped by "the successful sale of both its Blythe and Sarnia projects ... releasing these revs from receivables," a roughly 50% decrease in days sales outstanding, and about a 14% reduction in inventories. Practically alone in the solar universe, First Solar continues to generate free cash flow from its business.

Foolish takeaway
Now mind you, Hapoalim isn't saying you should buy First Solar. Neither am I. (Because there's a big difference between generating "some free cash flow" and generating "enough to justify the price.") But while there's plenty of reason to be skeptical of the company, its rivals appear to be in even worse shape.

Relatively speaking, First Solar just may turn out to be the safest port in this year's solar storm.

First Solar and Suntech Power Holdings are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations, but Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he was recently ranked No. 699 out of more than 150,000 members. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.