E-Multitudes of Cash Squared Away

You have to feel for your automobile. Prices at the pump are soaring and there appears to be no relief in sight. The energy crunch doesn't end there. Natural gas prices have nearly doubled over the past year and if you ask California residents how they feel about rolling blackouts, you're bound to get an earful.

Energy has become more of a luxury than a commodity lately. After years of being ignored in favor of growth sectors with higher octane, energy stocks are back -- pumped and primed with a vengeance. Last quarter, ExxonMobil(NYSE: XOM) reported record results. As the country's leading oil and gas company, it produced just over $5 billion in profit for the period. That's not revenue. That's profit. The stock gained 3% the day it reported the news.

A lot of the bottom-line kick has come from the cost savings implemented as a result of sector consolidation. Just as BP(NYSE: BP) and Royal Dutch(NYSE: RD) found willing accomplices in Amoco and Shell, respectively, the industry leaders have found solace in acquiring companies when times are rocky. They are now milking the fruit of synergy.

With engines revved, the fuel giants look like they will continue to flourish over a summer filled with road trips and commuters who are too proud to carpool. While the energy markets all face some degree of regulation, they are ultimately supply and demand dependent. Tight inventory reserves are keeping costs high and the markups even higher.

Eventually, fossil fuel alternatives like hydrogen cells will propel a company like Ballard Power(Nasdaq: BLDP) into a more sustainable limelight. The company has spent years teaming up with major car manufacturers, but it still has a long way to go to achieve sustainable profits.  

The alternative energy field is filled with great stories but even greater risks. Yes, there are major options for home energy consumption on the horizon. Many of them are publicly traded. However, they are not for the timid. Ballard has grown to become a $5 billion company. Last year's revenues? Just $55.8 million. Over the last five years the company has generated operating losses of $133.3 million. Ballard's cells might eventually make combustion engines that burn non-renewable fuels obsolete, but the company will likely burn even more cash along the way.

Right now, the California energy crisis has been a temporary boon for the cleaner fuel cell promises of Plug Power(Nasdaq: PLUG) and FuelCellEnergy(Nasdaq: FCEL) and solar energy purveyor AstroPower(Nasdaq: APWR), but it will take more than dire headlines to make these names bankable in the near term. Keep an eye out just for curiosity's sake, but don't expect all of these names to be around in a couple of years when a cleaner tomorrow becomes a reality.

For now, the attention is aimed at the power brokers like Dynegy(NYSE: DYN), Duke(NYSE: DUK), and Enron(NYSE: ENE) -- all hoping that the fuel thrills of today don't become the regulated excesses of tomorrow. Revenues for Dynegy doubled last year, and nearly tripled this past quarter. That's no easy feat for a company the size of Dynegy, with just over $38 billion in trailing revenues.

That's energy for you -- powering the big and small.

Rick has big plans for the summer season. Real big! Rick's stock holdings can be viewed online, as can the Fool's disclosure policy.

Summer Stocks represents the opinion of one Fool and should in no way be taken as the opinion of either The Motley Fool, Inc. or the company in question, or as representative of anyone or anything other than that specific Fool's thoughts.  

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