Alternative Energy Storage: Cheap is Still Outperforming Cool
The next couple months are shaping up as a time of extraordinary change in the energy storage sector. Events that will drive the change include:
- Press reports indicate that the Department of Energy will be ready to announce it's preliminary decisions on the allocation of $2 billion in ARRA battery manufacturing grants sometime this week;
- We've seen numerous reports on automaker's plans to begin manufacturing PHEVs and EVs in limited volumes for testing and demonstration purposes;
tailpipe emission standards in Europe and accelerated
CAFE standards in the U.S. will effectively compel the widespread
adoption and rapid roll-out of stop-start and mild hybrid technologies
by all major automakers;
- Advanced Battery (ABAT) acquired manufacturing facilities for electric two-wheeled (E2W) vehicles and is diversifying its operations with a sharper focus on the Chinese market;
- Beacon Power (BCON) received a conditional commitment for a $43 million DOE loan guarantee that will be used to complete a 20 MW flywheel energy storage project in New York; and
- A123 Systems filed another amendment to its SEC registration statement, which indicates that they're still on track for an IPO sometime in September.
The following table provides comparative price data for the short-list of pure play energy storage companies I track. It shows closing prices on November 14, 2008 and July 31, 2009, calculates the percentage of change over the last eight months, and calculates current market capitalizations based on recent SEC reports.
|Hong Kong Highpower||HPJ||$3.50||$1.41||-59.71%||$19.12|
|Axion Power International||AXPW.OB||$1.30||$1.25||-3.85%||$44.53|
Between November 14, 2008 and July 31, 2009, a $1,000 index investment in the Dow Jones Average, the Nasdaq Index and the S&P 500 would have resulted in an average portfolio appreciation of 17.2%. The following table summarizes the portfolio gain or (loss) that would have resulted from an investment of $1,000 per company in each of my four groups.
Equity markets are driven by a combination of greed and fear, emotional reactions that are often at odds with fundamental economic realities. Over the past few years, both cool groups have been driven by headlines that highlight opportunities while both cheap groups have been driven by headlines that highlight problems. Since headlines invariably feed the greed and fear cycle, the cool groups were driven to relatively high valuation levels while the cheap groups were driven to relatively low valuation levels. If the last eight months are any indication, the pendulum is moving back toward a more balanced position where cheap group valuations will eventually catch up with cool group valuations. As the following summary valuation metrics show, they still have a long way to go.
|Cool Emerging Group||Symbol||(000s)||Earnings||Book||Sales||Per Share|
|Cool Sustainable Group|
|Hong Kong Highpower||HPJ||13,563||10.85||1.14||0.28||$1.23|
|Cheap Emerging Group|
|Axion Power International||AXPW.OB||35,625||7.25||42.09||$0.17|
|Cheap Sustainable Group|
I have long argued that every energy storage decision boils down to a cost-benefit analysis and the bulk of the incremental sales revenue will flow to companies that serve the mundane needs of the average user, rather than the extreme needs of "power users." Based on his recent statement that lithium-ion batteries are overhyped, it appears that Vinod Khosla, one of Silicon Valley's most active cleantech investors, agrees with me. While I believe fundamental market drivers will result in rapid and sustained growth across the entire spectrum of energy storage companies, I’m convinced the superstars will be the manufacturers of objectively cheap products that can serve the needs of average users at a reasonable price. Until cheap group valuations approach parity with cool group valuations, I will continue to believe that investors who want to maximize portfolio performance in the energy storage sector should focus on the cheap groups instead of the cool groups.
DISCLOSURE: Author is a former director Axion Power International (AXPW.OB) and holds a large long position in its stock. He also holds small long positions in Exide (XIDE), Enersys (ENS) Active Power (ACPW) and ZBB Energy (ZBB).
John L. Petersen, Esq. is a U.S. lawyer based in Switzerland who works as a partner in the law firm of Fefer Petersen & Cie and represents North American, European and Asian clients, principally in the energy and alternative energy sectors. His international practice is limited to corporate securities and small company finance, where he focuses on guiding small growth-oriented companies through the corporate finance process, beginning with seed stage private placements, continuing through growth stage private financing and concluding with a reverse merger or public offering. Mr. Petersen is a 1979 graduate of the Notre Dame Law School and a 1976 graduate of Arizona State University. He was admitted to the Texas Bar Association in 1980 and licensed to practice as a CPA in 1981.