Alt energy investors figured out early on in this crisis that a widespread shut-down of credit markets coupled with a substantial re-pricing of risk would not bode well for the industry. That’s why alt energy stocks have outdone the overall market to the downside over the past year, with the iShares S&P Global Clean Energy Index (ICLN) down more than 60% Vs. the S&P 500 loosing a little under 40% over the same period.
Much of this carnage occurred before any real impacts on alt energy had been felt (current prices in equity markets are generally forward- rather backward-looking). Over the past couple of months, however, the proverbial chickens have come home to roost, and companies with weak balance sheets and/or no sales have been experiencing difficulties. Good companies have had to cut back staff and production. Here are some of the headlines that caught my attention:
Yesterday, clean locomotive maker Railpower Technologies Corp. (RLPPF.PK) filed for bankruptcy protection and put itself up for sale. I took a small position in this stock in May and liquidated it at a significant loss in October (this was a pretty bad call on my part but, like many people, I’d failed to grasp how dire things were going to get). Railpower’s woes this time around were due entirely to bad luck (and terrible timing!): it had finally overcome initial execution problems and found a credible financial backer, only to have its plans wrecked by the economic maelstrom. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’ll be a third chance for this one.
Also yesterday, emerging turbine maker AAER Inc. (AAERF.PK) announced that it had extended the deadline on the deal it signed last October for the supply of 100 MW of turbines to a Canadian wind project by two months. The original agreement called for both parties (AAER and project developer Northland Power) to have secured the necessary financing (the former to produce and the latter develop) within four months. AAER has since gone to market and raised debt and equity financing. Northland’s situation, however, is less clear. My take: Northland is unable to find cheap debt to develop its project and wants more time to see if things will normalize in the next couple of months. While not terrible, this certainly isn’t great news.
Privately-held OptiSolar, a thin-film panel maker and solar park developer, cut 300 jobs in early January (50% of its staff) because of financing problems. Other solar firms, including Ausra, SunEdison, HelioVolt and Suntech Power (STP) have all recently announced staff cuts, although not to the same extent.
Wind tower maker DMI Industries, a unit of Otter Tail Corp. (OTTR), announced in early January a 20% reduction in its workforce at plants in the US and Canada. Not to be outdone, Clipper Windpower recently laid off 150 employees at a US plant (38% of the workforce), while LM Glasfiber let go of 150 and is halting production production at two Arkansas plants. Finally, Trinity Structural Towers, a unit of Trinity Industries (TRN), closed down a wind tower plant and laid off 131 workers in mid-January.
Micro-cap Canadian wind project developer EarthFirst Canada went belly-up in early November because it ran out of cash and couldn’t find financing. This bankruptcy had been in the works for some time and I tried to play it…unsuccessfully.
DISCLOSURE: Charles Morand has positions in the following stocks: AAER, EarthFirst Canada.
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