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July 30, 2014

New Tariffs Likely To Raise US Solar Prices

Jennifer Runyon

The US Department of Commerce announced preliminary findings in the new trade case against Chinese and Taiwanese PV products.

On Friday evening the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) announced its preliminary findings in the antidumping duty (AD) investigations of imports of some crystalline silicon PV products from China and Taiwan. Most solar products entering the U.S. market from China and Taiwan will now face import duties.

According to a fact sheet released by the DOC, the AD law “provides U.S. businesses and workers with a transparent and internationally accepted mechanism to seek relief from the market-distorting effects caused by injurious dumping of imports into the United States. The DOC believes that this creates  “an opportunity [for U.S. businesses] to compete on a level playing field.”

The DOC has prelimarily determined that “certain crystalline silicon photovoltaic products from China and Taiwan have been sold in the United States at dumping margins ranging from 26.33 to 58.87 percent, and 27.59 to 44.18 percent, respectively and will be collecting tariffs on the following manufacturers in the following amounts. The tariffs will be collected immediately, although final determinations will not be made until December.

From China:

  • Trina Solar (TSL) – 26.33 percent
  • Rensola (SOL) and Jinko (JKS) – 58.87 percent
  • Suntech (STP) – 42.33 percent
  • Another 42 unspecified manufactures – 42.33 percent
  • China-wide entity (those who didn’t respond to the DOC’s questionnaire) -165.04 percent

From Taiwan:

  • Gintech – 27.69 percent
  • Motech – 44.18 percent
  • All others 35.89 percent

The ruling is inclusive of many pieces of the solar manufacturing puzzle.  According to the DOC fact sheet it includes the following:

Crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, and modules, laminates and/or panels consisting of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, whether or not partially or fully assembled into other products, including building integrated materials.

For purposes of this investigation, subject merchandise also includes modules, laminates and/or panels assembled in the subject country consisting of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells that are completed or partially manufactured within a customs territory other than that subject country, using ingots that are manufactured in the subject country, wafers that are manufactured in the subject country, or cells where the manufacturing process begins in the subject country and is completed in a non-subject country.

Subject merchandise includes crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells of thickness equal to or greater than 20 micrometers, having a p/n junction formed by any means, whether or not the cell has undergone other processing, including, but not limited to, cleaning etching, coating, and/or addition of materials (including, but not limited to, metallization and conductor patterns) to collect and forward the electricity that is generated by the cell.

Thin-film PV will not face tariffs.  Also excluded are any products that are covered by the existing antidumping and countervailing duties as well as PV cells not exceeding 10,000 mm2 in surface area that are integrated into consumer goods who function to power that consumer good (like a solar-powered calculator).

The DOC estimates that in 2013, the value of solar PV products imported from China and Taiwan was $1.5 billion and $656 million, respectively.

U.S. Industry Reacts

SolarWorld (SRWRF), the solar petitioner in the case against China and Taiwan, commended the DOC’s determination.

“We and our workers are very gratified to hear that the U.S. government once again has moved to block foreign government interference in our economy and clear the way for the domestic production industry to be able to compete on a level playing field,” said Mukesh Dulani, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc.  “We should not have to compete with dumped imports or the Chinese government.  Today’s actions should help the U.S. solar manufacturing industry to expand and innovate.”

Jigar Shah, president of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) released a statement calling the determination “another unnecessary obstacle” that he said will “hinder the deployment of clean energy by raising the prices of solar products.”

He said: “Due to these tariffs, previously viable projects will go unbuilt, American workers will go unhired and consumers that could have saved money through solar energy may not be able to benefit.”   

CASE maintains that America’s solar manufacturers are strong and are providing jobs for 29,000 U.S. workers.  In addition almost 100,000 Americans are employed downstream in the system installation, sales, distribution and project development sectors.

The coalition collected the following statements from some of its members:

Ron Corio, President of Array Technologies, based in Albuquerque, NM and representing over 100 jobs said: “As a U.S. solar manufacturing company, we’re very disappointed in today’s anti-dumping determination. By increasing the price of solar power through tariffs, SolarWorld is shrinking the market for our products here in the United States and punishing successful U.S. solar businesses. Our company is proof that American solar manufacturing jobs will decrease under these special trade protections.”

John Morrison, COO of Strata Solar, based in Chapel Hill, NC and representing over 1,000 jobs said: “Due to their scale, the utility and large commercial solar sectors are particularly sensitive to the uncertainty and price increases caused by these tariffs. Until this dispute is resolved, our industry will build fewer projects and install less solar. It’s time to end the litigation, negotiate a solution and put more Americans back to work.”

Ocean Yuan, Founder and CEO of Grape Solar, based in Eugene, OR said: “My company assembles and sells complete solar energy kits directly to customers and in major retail stores across the country. The number one reason customers cite when switching to solar energy is cost savings, but these misguided tariffs are inflating prices. A negotiated solution to this dispute will ensure the continued growth of our industry and small businesses like mine.”

Chinese Industry Reacts

In an interview with Bloomberg news, Sebastian Liu, director of Investor Relations at Jinko Solar said that top Chinese manufacturers would elect to pay the 2012 duties without using cells from Taiwan or a third-country. Jennifer Liang, a Taipei-based analyst from KGI Securities Co told Bloomberg that the duties would hurt producers from Taiwan the most.

Taiwanese solar stocks including Motech, Gintech, E-Ton Solar and Neo Solar dropped in reaction to the news, said Bloomberg.

Organizations Urge a Settlement

CASE’s Shah believes that SolarWorld should work with the U.S. solar industry to end litigation “in favor of a win-win solution like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) settlement proposal.”

He said that CASE members represent the industry majority and that they “demand a solution that ends uncertainty in the marketplace by preventing further trade litigation and that allows solar power to compete cost-effectively with traditional energy sources, thus enabling the market’s further growth.”

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA echoed Shah. “Enough is enough. The Department of Commerce continues to rely on an overly broad scope definition for subject imports from China, adversely impacting both American consumers and the vast majority of the U.S. solar industry,” Resch said. “We strongly urge the U.S. and Chinese governments to ‘freeze the playing field’ and focus all efforts on finding a negotiated solution. This continued, unnecessary litigation has already done serious damage, with even more likely to result as the investigations proceed.”

Resch believes that a “win-win” solution is still achievable. “As the old saying goes, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ Today, the parties are finally engaged and all sides seem committed to finding a negotiated solution. I am encouraging my U.S. and Chinese industry colleagues to roll-up our sleeves, work together, and find a deal that’s good for everyone,” he said.

For more discussion about U.S. trade relations, play the video below.

Timeline for Next Steps

Final determination of the AD investigation is expected on December 15, 2014. If that final determination is affirmative then the International Trade Commission will issue its final determination on January 29, 2015 and the order will be issued on February 5, 2015.

Jennifer Runyon is chief editor of RenewableEnergyWorld.com and Renewable Energy World magazine, coordinating, writing and/or editing columns, features, news stories and blogs for the publications. She also serves as conference chair of Renewable Energy World Conference and Expo, North America. She holds a Master's Degree in English Education from Boston University and a BA in English from the University of Virginia.

This article was originally published on RenewableEnergyWorld.com, and is republished with permission. 

July 29, 2014

Velocys Thinking Big with Microreactors

by Debra Fiakas CFA

Keep the applause down!  Contain your enthusiasm for yet another biomass- or gas-to-liquids company.  Over the past several weeks I have written about a number of privately-held developers of one technology or another intended to produce a drop-in renewable fuel from biomass or natural gas.  There are more,  In this post we check in on Velocys (VCL:  London), which stands out from the rest as a public company.  No matter that it's technology looks like that of the very next renewable fuel company, it is accessible to minority investors.

Until recently Velocys was known as Oxford Catalyst Group, a name that perhaps better describes the technology behind the company.  Velocys has developed a small-scale modular plant that can be deployed in remote locations where stranded natural gas or waste biomass can be found.  Velocys uses the conventional steam reforming and Fischer Tropsch processes, but has added a twist it calls ‘microchannel reactors’ where it deploys a proprietary catalytic effect.  The microchannels, with reduced dimensions, intensify the chemical reactions and deliver greater efficiencies than conventional Fischer Tropsh and steam reforming processes.

The company recorded the first commercial sales of its microchannel reactors in the year 2013.  An important market for Velocys is the oil and gas industry, needs to capture and upgrade stranded gases rather than burning them off in the oil field.  Primus Green Energy, which was discussed in the July 15th post “Primus Wants to Clean up Fossil Fuels” and is also targeting this market with its version of  steam reforming.

The company has some interesting partnerships to help penetrate commercial markets:  waste handler Waste Management (WM:  NYSE) and power generator Pinto Energy.  Velocys has a joint venture with Waste Management in Oklahoma, where the company expects to locate a plant next to one of Waste Management landfills.  Final permits have been submitted and approvals are expected in 2014.

Just as this article was being prepared, Velocys announced its intention to acquire its partner Pinto Energy in a gas-to-liquids project near the Port of Ashtabula in Ohio.  The project is expected to receive final permits yet in 2014 and then convert natural gas from the Marcellus shale region to liquid gas.  Velocys claims Pinto Energy has a string of similar projects in its pipeline.  If that is the case there should be a nice step up in value after the all-stock deal is completed.

Velocys shares traded down on news of the Pinto Energy acquisition.  Perhaps investors would rather see the company report its first profits.  Still investors, even those who have not considered a London Exchange listed company, should take note of VLS.L.  There is some concern about the benefits of switching to natural gas from an environmental standpoint.  Make no mistake about it, natural gas is still a fossil fuel.  However, compared to coal it has some merits.  What is more gas-to-liquids could serve as a valuable interim fuel source for U.S. transportation transitions away foreign oil and gas to electric or another more environmentally friendly fuel source.  What is more, Velocys technology does help clean up one of the dirtier elements of the oil and gas industry  -  burning off waste gases into the atmosphere.

Debra Fiakas is the Managing Director of
Crystal Equity Research, an alternative research resource on small capitalization companies in selected industries.

Neither the author of the Small Cap Strategist web log, Crystal Equity Research nor its affiliates have a beneficial interest in the companies mentioned herein.

July 28, 2014

The Utility Death Spiral: Beyond The Rhetoric

by Lynne Kiesling

Unless you follow the electricity industry you may not be aware of the past year’s discussion of the impending “utility death spiral”, ably summarized in this Clean Energy Group post:

There have been several reports out recently predicting that solar + storage systems will soon reach cost parity with grid-purchased electricity, thus presenting the first serious challenge to the centralized utility model. Customers, the theory goes, will soon be able to cut the cord that has bound them to traditional utilities, opting instead to self-generate using cheap PV, with batteries to regulate the intermittent output and carry them through cloudy spells. The plummeting cost of solar panels, plus the imminent increased production and decreased cost of electric vehicle batteries that can be used in stationary applications, have combined to create a technological perfect storm. As grid power costs rise and self-generation costs fall, a tipping point will arrive – within a decade, some analysts are predicting – at which time, it will become economically advantageous for millions of Americans to generate their own power. The “death spiral” for utilities occurs because the more people self-generate, the more utilities will be forced to seek rate increases on a shrinking rate base… thus driving even more customers off the grid.

A January 2013 analysis from the Edison Electric Institute, Disruptive Challenges: Financial Implications and Strategic Responses to a Changing Retail Electric Business, precipitated this conversation. Focusing on the financial market implications for regulated utilities of distributed resources (DER) and technology-enabled demand-side management (an archaic term that I dislike intensely), or DSM, the report notes that:

The financial risks created by disruptive challenges include declining utility revenues, increasing costs, and lower profitability potential, particularly over the long term. As DER and DSM programs continue to capture “market share,” for example, utility revenues will be reduced. Adding the higher costs to integrate DER, increasing subsidies for DSM and direct metering of DER will result in the potential for a squeeze on profitability and, thus, credit metrics. While the regulatory process is expected to allow for recovery of lost revenues in future rate cases, tariff structures in most states call for non-DER customers to pay for (or absorb) lost revenues. As DER penetration increases, this is a cost recovery structure that will lead to political pressure to undo these cross subsidies and may result in utility stranded cost exposure.

I think the apocalyptic “death spiral” rhetoric is overblown and exaggerated, but this is a worthwhile, and perhaps overdue, conversation to have. As it has unfolded over the past year, though, I do think that some of the more essential questions on the topic are not being asked. Over the next few weeks I’m going to explore some of those questions, as I dive into a related new research project.

The theoretical argument for the possibility of death spiral is straightforward. The vertically-integrated, regulated distribution utility is a regulatory creation, intended to enable a financially sustainable business model for providing reliable basic electricity service to the largest possible number of customers for the least feasible cost, taking account of the economies of scale and scope resulting from the electro-mechanical generation and wires technologies implemented in the early 20th century. From a theoretical/benevolent social planner perspective, the objective is, given a market demand for a specific good/service, to minimize the total cost of providing that good/service subject to a zero economic profit constraint for the firm; this will lead to highest feasible output and total surplus combination (and lowest deadweight loss) consistent with the financial sustainability of the firm.

The regulatory mechanism for implementing this model to achieve this objective is to erect a legal entry barrier into the market for that specific good/service, and to assure the regulated monopolist cost recovery, including its opportunity cost of capital, otherwise known as rate-of-return regulation. In return, the regulated monopolist commits to serve all customers reliably through its vertically-integrated generation, transmission, distribution, and retail functions. The monopolist’s costs and opportunity cost of capital determine its revenue requirement, out of which we can derive flat, averaged retail prices that forecasts suggest will enable the monopolist to earn that amount of revenue.

That’s the regulatory model + business model that has existed with little substantive evolution since the early 20th century, and it did achieve the social policy objectives of the 20th century — widespread electrification and low, stable prices, which have enabled follow-on economic growth and well-distributed increased living standards. It’s a regulatory+business model, though, that is premised on a few things:

  1. Defining a market by defining the characteristics of the product/service sold in that market, in this case electricity with a particular physical (volts, amps, hertz) definition and a particular reliability level (paraphrasing Fred Kahn …)
  2. The economies of scale (those big central generators and big wires) and economies of scope (lower total cost when producing two or more products compared to producing those products separately) that exist due to large-scale electro-mechanical technologies
  3. The architectural implications of connecting large-scale electro-mechanical technologies together in a network via a set of centralized control nodes — technology -> architecture -> market environment, and in this case large-scale electro-mechanical technologies -> distributed wires network with centralized control points rather than distributed control points throughout the network, including the edge of the network (paraphrasing Larry Lessig …)
  4. The financial implications of having invested so many resources in long-lived physical assets to create that network and its control nodes — if demand is growing at a stable rate, and regulators can assure cost recovery, then the regulated monopolist can arrange financing for investments at attractive interest rates, as long as this arrangement is likely to be stable for the 30-to-40-year life of the assets

As long as those conditions are stable, regulatory cost recovery will sustain this business model. And that’s precisely the effect of smart grid technologies, distributed generation technologies, microgrid technologies — they violate one or more of those four premises, and can make it not just feasible, but actually beneficial for customers to change their behavior in ways that reduce the regulation-supported revenue of the regulated monopolist.

Digital technologies that enable greater consumer control and more choice of products and services break down the regulatory market boundaries that are required to regulate product quality. Generation innovations, from the combined-cycle gas turbine of the 1980s to small-scale Stirling engines, reduce the economies of scale that have driven the regulation of and investment in the industry for over a century. Wires networks with centralized control built to capitalize on those large-scale technologies may have less value in an environment with smaller-scale generation and digital, automated detection, response, and control. But those generation and wires assets are long-lived, and in a cost-recovery-based business model, have to be paid for even if they become the destruction in creative destruction. We saw that happen in the restructuring that occurred in the 1990s, with the liberalization of wholesale power markets and the unbundling of generation from the vertically-integrated monopolists in those states; part of the political bargain in restructuring was to compensate them for the “stranded costs” associated with having made those investments based on a regulatory commitment that they would receive cost recovery on them.

Thus the death spiral rhetoric, and the concern that the existing utility business model will not survive. But if my framing of the situation is accurate, then what we should be examining in more detail is the regulatory model, since the utility business model is itself a regulatory creation. This relationship between digital innovation (encompassing smart grid, distributed resources, and microgrids) and regulation is what I’m exploring. How should the regulatory model and the associated utility business model change in light of digital innovation?

Lynne Kiesling is a Distinguished Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at Northwestern University. Her economic specialty is industrial organization, regulatory policy and market design in the electricity industry.  In particular, she examines the interaction of market design and innovation in the development of retail markets, products and services and the economics of “smart grid” technologies. She also teaches undergraduate courses in principles of economics, energy economics, environmental economics, and history of economic thought, and she writes about economics as the editor/owner at the website Knowledge Problem, where this post first appeared.

July 26, 2014

The Quick Guide To A Green Stock Portfolio

Tom Konrad, CFA

I recently published a quick guide to a green or fossil fuel free stock portfolio aimed at the small investor.  For most people, the best options will be to use mutual funds or an investment advisor.  Some of us like to do things ourselves, and build a portfolio from scratch, using individual stocks.  Doing so could rapidly become a full-time job, but it does not have to be.  Instead, you can use information which mutual funds disclose to piggy-back on their research.  Garvin Jabusch, Co-Founder and CIO of Green Alpha Advisors in Boulder, Colorado, recently told me, "If I were a doctor or a lawyer, I'd probably use this strategy."

The Stock Lists
Technology
Ticker
Beta
Yield
INTC
1.60
3.5%
CSCO
1.26
2.9%
IBM
0.67
2.1%
QCOM
0.85
1.8%
AMAT
1.82
2.0%
ORCL
1.14*
1.1%
GOOGL
0.94
-
FSLR
5.9
-
CSIQ
2.84
-
SCTY
5.7*
-
Healthcare
Ticker
Beta
Yield
MRK
0.50*
3.1%
RHHBY
0.77
2.9%
NVO
1.08
1.4%
GILD
0.98
-
NVZMY
0.50
0.6%
Industrial
VE
1.75
5.3%
PNR
1.24
1.3%
PWR
0.62
-
GNRC
0.89
-
Consumer Defensive
Ticker
Beta
Yield
PG
0.41
3.1%
PEP
0.31
2.6%
UNFI
0.65
-
Consumer Cyclical
JCI
1.77
1.8%
TSLA
1.37
-
Financial
TD
0.56
3.4%
MET
2.20
2.4%
Real Estate
JLL
2.02
0.4%
Utilities
ITC
-0.10
1.5%
Data from Morningstar.com except * from Yahoo! Finance
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires that mutual funds disclose their portfolios quarterly, but many often disclose their holdings more frequently on their websites.  Start by selecting a few green mutual funds which you feel reflect your idea of what "green" investing is.  For the purpose of this article, I'm going to use three funds which describe themselves as fossil fuel free.  They are: Green Century Equity (GCEQX), Portfolio 21 (PORTX), and Jabusch's Shelton Green Alpha (NEXTX). The links connect to each funds' list of holdings on Morningstar.

I've used the top 10 holdings of these three funds to compile the list of stocks shown in the box at right.  The sector designations (Technology, Healthcare, etc.) are the categorizations given by Morningstar.  I also used Morningstar (with a supplement from Yahoo! finance to determine each company's dividend yield and Beta, which is a widely used measure of a stock's market risk.

"If I were a doctor or a lawyer, I'd probably use this strategy."
        -- Garvin Jabusch, co-manager of the Shelton Green Alpha mutual fund.

When compiling your own such list, you may use more or less than the top ten holdings, or use different funds, if you think they are a better match for what you consider "green."  A variety of other sources, such as gofossilfree.org's Extracting Fossil Fuels from Your Portfolio [pdf] also include useful stock lists. 

One criticism of green mutual funds is that they tend to be heavy on technology and healthcare stocks, and you can see this is clearly the case with the list I've compiled to the right.  The next step is to correct for this bias.

Balancing The Portfolio

A "Balanced Portfolio" usually refers to a portfolio containing a "balance" of different security types, usually equities (stocks) and fixed income (bonds.)  According to conventional financial theory, the right "balance" for you depends on your financial resources and risk tolerance.  There are any number of online calculators and questionnaires available which will take this sort of personal data and produce a portfolio allocation. 

This article is mostly about the stock or equity portion of the portfolio.  For the fixed income portion of the portfolio, the best choice is to reduce your debt.  Your own debt is probably someone else's fixed income security.  By paying down that debt, you are essentially buying it back from that investor, and also saving yourself the overhead costs that are built into the loan.  If you have no debt, you will be able to bear more risk and invest more in equities.

Other green income options include increasing the energy efficiency of your home, installing solar (and paying for it up front as opposed to using a lease, which is financially similar to purchasing the solar system with debt), the crowd funding site Solar Mosaic (when they have projects available), or a bank CD with a relatively green bank such as Capital Pacific Bancorp (CPBO) or Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD), which also happens to be included in the stock list to the right. 

I personally feel that current interest rates are too low to make traditional fixed income investing attractive, and instead use a portfolio of high-income equities.  While the financial theory that gives us the portfolio allocation referenced above assumes that there is a natural trade-off between return and risk, real world research only finds that trade-off between asset classes (i.e. stocks have higher risk and return than bonds) but not within asset classes (risky stocks do not have higher returns than safer stocks.)  This is called the low-risk anomaly (a.k.a. low-beta anomaly or low-volatility anomaly.)  Historically, low-risk stocks have actually produced higher returns than high-risk stocks. 

A consequence of the low-risk anomaly is that a portfolio of low-risk, high yield stocks is likely to have higher returns and yield than typical portfolios of stocks or bonds, or combinations of the two.  This is why my annual portfolio of ten clean energy stocks contains six high-yield stocks this year.  That list could also be substituted for the holdings of a mutual fund when generating the list of stocks to build your portfolio.

Diversification

The benefit of owning a large number of stocks is diversification: so your investment can't be lost due to bad news for a single company or sector. For the small stock investor, diversification comes with a trade-of  of higher transaction costs.  To keep these costs low, I try to keep brokerage commissions to no less than 0.5% or 1/200th of any transaction, and trade as little as possible.  That means that if you pay $8 per transaction, each position should be at least $1,600 (=$8 x 200.)  For a $20,000 account, that means you can have as many as 12 positions.  If your portfolio is too small to have 10 positions using this rule, you're probably better off opting to the diversification of a mutual fund until you can increase it.  As the account grows, let your transaction size grow, to further reduce investment costs.  20 positions should be plenty for the purpose of diversification if you are careful to select stocks in a wide range of industries so that they behave differently in various economic conditions.

To select a 10 stock portfolio from the list I have compiled to the right, I first select the stock with the best combination of low beta (to take advantage of the low beta anomaly) and high yield (to compensate for not including fixed income.)  That gives me eight stocks: INTC, MRK, VE, PG, JCI, TD, JLL, and ITC. I then choose the next two highest yielding low beta stocks, making sure I don't have more than two in any industry: RHHBY and PEP. 

If you buy equal dollar amounts of each, you have a moderately diversified, low cost, low beta, relatively high yield (2.8%), fossil-free portfolio.

Closing The Circle

I discussed this strategy with Jan Schalkwijk, a green investment advisor at JPS Global Investments.  He pointed out that it is very important not just to buy the stocks and forget about them, but also "close the circle."  To follow this strategy effectively, you need to put in place a plan to update the portfolio periodically.  In 2009, I put together a 5-stock "tracking portfolio" that was designed to mimic the performance of the alternative energy mutual funds using a similar procedure. I checked back on the portfolio six months later, and it was out performing the funds, but then I forgot about it until I started thinking about this article.  I checked the performance, and the portfolio was up only 1.5% over five years, equal to the worst performing of the three mutual funds, and far behind the average return of 61%.  The biggest reason for the relatively poor performance was the inclusion of the now-bankrupt Suntech Power in the tracking portfolio. The mutual funds probably avoided some similar losses by getting out once the dire situation at Suntech became clear.

A good procedure for updating the portfolio would be to repeat the exercise whenever you add or withdraw money, but at least every two years.  If a stock in the portfolio no longer appears in any of your mutual fund holdings (not just the top 10 stocks), you should assume something is wrong and sell it.  You should also sell half of any position which has doubled in value since you bought it.

Re-invest the funds (as well as any new savings) by finding the new stock or stocks which maintain or increase your industry diversification, and also have relatively high yield and low beta.

DISCLOSURE: Long VE.

This article was first published on Renewable Energy World and in Renewable Energy World Magazine.

DISCLAIMER: Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results.  This article contains the current opinions of the author and such opinions are subject to change without notice.  This article has been distributed for informational purposes only. Forecasts, estimates, and certain information contained herein should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product.  Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed.

July 24, 2014

Charging Your Portfolio With Tesla's Gigafactory

By Jeff Siegel

Last week, Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) announced that its next electric offering — a competitively priced electric vehicle — will hit the market in 2017.

Dubbed the Model III, the 200-mile-range electric vehicle will go for $35,000.

Certainly this was big news for electric car enthusiasts — particularly those who can't afford an $85,000 Model S but yearn to drive one. But if you regularly follow trends in the electric vehicle space, at least the way I do, you know Tesla's announcement was just one of many big moves in the space over the past few months.

Truth is, the electric vehicle sector is hotter than ever. And despite continued empty criticisms by internal combustion apologists, electric vehicles are here to stay.

This is great news for those who love driving on homegrown electrons, and it's great news for investors who are looking for more than one way to make a few bucks in the energy space...

$50 Billion Bonanza

Around the same time we learned about Tesla's new Model III, we also got some fresh energy storage market data from the folks over at Lux Research.

According to the research firm's latest analysis, energy storage, driven largely by plug-in electric vehicles, will grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 8% to $50 billion in 2020.

That's less than six years away.

Researchers note that electric vehicles are the largest opportunity in transportation. With modest sales of 440,000 units, electric vehicles still will use $6.3 billion worth of energy storage — more than the micro-hybrids, which will have sales two orders of magnitude higher at 59 million units.

luxrpt[1].jpg

Internal Combustion Blues

One of the more intriguing bits from this recent report is the following statement...
“...incremental evolutions like start-stop technology are leading to significant changes in the energy storage market. With global sales of 59 million, a 53% market share and $6.1 billion in annual revenue, micro-hybrids will, for the first time, overtake the conventional internal combustion engine and emerge the most popular drivetrain by 2020.”
I have to be honest; I never thought I'd see the day when the most popular drivetrain would be something other than that of conventional internal combustion.

Of course, this doesn't mean internal combustion is going gently into that good night. Such a suggestion would not only be naïve, but also a bit dishonest. However, it is interesting to see how rapidly technology is transitioning the personal transportation market.

Heck, I remember when the Toyota Prius was the technologically superior vehicle when it came to fuel economy. In many ways, it still is. But it's so common now that we almost don't even notice those little hybrid superstars anymore. With more than 3 million units sold, such a thing is understandable.

So will the same be said for electric vehicles in another ten years? I think so.

My prediction is that Tesla will continue to be the most innovative and aggressive electric vehicle player in the market. Nissan and GM will continue to push their electric offerings, most likely with worthwhile upgrades by the end of the decade that'll enable increased range and lower pricing.

Asian players like BYD Company (OTCBB: BYDDF), Kandi Technologies (NASDAQ: KNDI), and Tata (NYSE: TTM) will also remain aggressive on non-conventional internal combustion offerings.

Of course, if you're looking for a way to profit from the growth in energy storage applications, look no further than Tesla's new Gigafactory.

GigaProfits!

If you're unfamiliar, the Gigafactory is a $5 billion battery manufacturing facility that Tesla is building right here in the United States.
When completed, the plant will be massive — capable of producing ten times the current production level available today. This equates to the production of 500,000 electric cars every year starting in 2020.

And with this production capability comes economies of scale that will allow Tesla to slash battery costs. Batteries, by the way, represent the most expensive component of electric cars.

My friends, Tesla's current Model S runs about $85,000. But with the new Gigafactory in place, the company will be able to sell you its next model — the Model III — for $35,000.

This is a huge game changer, and those who play it right will make a ton of money.

Now let me clarify: I'm not recommending investing in Tesla here. I'm talking about investing in the batteries — more specifically, the companies that will provide Tesla's Gigafactory with the key ingredients it will need to produce these batteries.

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Jeff Siegel is Editor of Energy and Capital, where this article was first published.

July 23, 2014

Chinese Policy Tailwinds For Ruifeng Renew

by William Gregozeski, CFA

China Ruifeng Renewable Energy Holdings Limited [HK:0527 (“Ruifeng Renew”)] is a holding company with ownership interests in three energy-related businesses.  Its current focus is on wind farm operations, via its majority holdings in Hongsong, a long established wind farm, and Langcheng, a greenfield wind farm (after various purchases and sales of ownership interests it will own 85.36% of the two wind farms on a beneficial level and 68.17% on a direct equity level.  These wind farms have a current installed capacity of 398.4MW, and are expected to increase to 1,190.4MW by the end of 2017.  It also owns a power grid construction business that installs transmission lines and related energy infrastructure for the State Grid and Southern Grid, as well as installs turbines and transmission infrastructure for its wind farms.  The Company also owns a wind turbine blade assembly plant in Chengde, where it builds blades for AVIC Huiteng Windpower, one of the large turbine blade manufacturers in China.
 
Hongsong was established in 2001 as the first wind farm in Hebei Province with its installation of 2.4MW of capacity, which was comprised of four Goldwind [HK:2208, OTC:XJNGF] turbines, making Hongsong one of Goldwind’s earliest customers.  Since then, Hongsong has completed eight phases of capacity expansion, each adding 49.5MW of capacity using 492 Goldwind turbines.  Hongsong’s current installed capacity stands at 398.4MW, with the expectation that 49.5MW will be added annually through 2017, bringing its final installed capacity to 596.4MW.  Hongsong is taxed at the full 25% rate, however all new phases of installed capacity (starting with Phase 8) will enjoy a full tax exemption for three years, followed by a 50% reduction for the following three years, after which it will pay the full tax rate.  
 
Langcheng was established in 2005 to develop a 594MW wind farm in Hexigten Qi in Inner Mongolia.  With the initial infrastructure in place, the Company intends to begin installing wind turbines in 2014, aiming to add three phases of 49.5MW each year through 2017.  Like Hongsong, each new phase of installed capacity will enjoy a full tax exemption for three years, followed by a 50% reduction for the following three years, after which it will pay the full tax rate.  
 
Ruifeng Renew enjoys a number of benefits from its ownership of Hongsong and Langcheng.  The two wind farms are located 30km apart, which allows for shared management and shared substation distribution; Hongsong currently has the infrastructure to support the distribution of up to 596MW of wind power, which will be ramped up to meet the expected increase capacity over the next three years.  The Company’s Power Grid Construction business is expected to install the turbines and distribution systems, which will help reduce the capital expenditure of each phase of increased capacity, while creating additional revenue for that business.  The most recent expansion, Phase 9 at Hongsong, cost approximately RMB270 million and we estimate future phases of increased capacity will cost RMB 270 to RMB 300 million, below the market rate for other producers, which enables management to obtain funding for most of the expansion with near PBOC rate bank debt.
 
Management intends to add capacity in 49.5MW increments, as any wind farm addition of 50MW must apply for a license from the NDRC (National Development and Resource Commission) at the national level, whereas capacity additions below 50MW can receive license approval from the regional arm of the NDRC.  The expectation is that all turbine purchases will be from Goldwind, the third largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world, who grants the Company favorable pricing on turbines due to the longstanding relationship between Hongsong and Goldwind.
 
Ruifeng Renew’s Wind Farm Operations generate revenue primarily from the sale of turbine-generated electricity sold to the State Grid Corporation of China, the seventh largest company in the world according to Forbes.  The State Grid does not enter into formal power purchase agreements (PPAs) with individual producers, but rather commits to buy electricity put on the grid at a fixed price set twice a year, which is currently RMB 0.43/kWh.  Renewable energy producers also receive RMB 0.11/kWh in subsidy revenue from the Finance Ministry, resulting in a total energy tariff of RMB 0.54/kWh.  The average wind farm in China operated for 2,000 hours in 2013, up from 1,900 hours in 2012, but still well below the historic average of roughly 2,250 hours at Hongsong and the expected 2,300 to 2,350 hours at Langcheng.
 
Based on the information above, and put in the context of the growth drivers of the energy and wind power market in China as described in our last article, we believe Ruifeng Renew is ideally positioned to build shareholder value in the coming years.  
 
William Gregozeski, CFA is the Director of Research at Greenridge Global, a provider of institutional-based sell-side services to underfollowed Asian-based companies and special situation stocks.  The author of this article, Greenridge Global and its affiliates do not have a beneficial ownership in the companies mentioned herein or any other disclosable conflicts of interest.
 

July 22, 2014

Fifteen Clean Energy Yield Cos: Where's The Yield?

Tom Konrad CFA

 In the first article of this survey of yield cos, I noted that many of the recent yield co IPOs have risen so far as to "lend the very term "yield co" a hint of irony" because rising stock prices are accompanied by falling annual dividend yields.

Yield Co Worries

Because yield cos invest in clean energy infrastructure such as wind farms and solar facilities, conservative income investors may worry about the durability of the technology.  Will solar panels still be producing power twenty years from now?  Others have brought up the credit quality of utility counter parties, and the untested nature of residential solar leases.

All of these concerns are real.  Some solar panels will fail sooner than expected, and possibly many at a single solar farm.  Utilities in Europe are already struggling financially, in part due to regulatory policies which were designed to promote renewable power.  The residential solar lease model is only a few years old.  Many solar leases contain inflation escalators which cause the price of solar power to rise by a few percent a year.

If electricity prices fall with the cost of power generated from wind and solar, what will homeowners do if they find they are suddenly paying more for electricity from their solar panels than they would for grid electricity?  Might populist politicians pass laws declaring solar leases invalid because the lessees feel like they've gotten a raw deal?

While all of these risks are real, most can be dealt with by diversification.  Falling prices of solar panels will make it cheaper to replace ones that fail prematurely.  Both electricity prices and politics are local, meaning that geographic diversification can do much to manage these risks. Technological risks can be dealt with by diversifying between technologies.  See the second article in this series for details on the types of power generation owned by each yield co.

The Biggest Risk

While all these risks are real, they are fairly standard investment risks, and can be dealt with through portfolio diversification: Don't own just one yield co (especially the smaller ones that own only a few facilities), and don't focus all your holdings on wind or solar. 

The biggest risk, and the one that can't be diversified away is the risk of paying too much.  For yield cos, which are designed to pay healthy dividends, not paying too much means getting a decent yield, now or in the near future.  For me, "decent" means at least 2% more than long term government bonds.  Even 2% is a fairly thin margin to compensate for the risks discussed above.  The ten year US Treasury note currently pays 2.5%, and the 30-year bond pays 3.3%, so anything below a 4-5% dividend yield is too little to be taken seriously, unless we are very confident that dividend growth can continue at a rapid pace for many years to come.

High Expectations For Growth

Most US-listed yield cos have outlined aggressive plans for dividend growth.  NRG Yield (NYLD) is the most ambitious, and expects to grow its dividend by 15% to 18% for five years.  In order of decreasing ambition, Terraform Power (TERP) aims for 15% growth for 3 years, NextEra Energy Partners (NEP) expects 12% to 15% growth for three years, Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure (HASI) expects 13% to 15% growth for two years, Pattern Energy Group (PEGI) aims for 10% to 12% for three years, and Abengoa Yield is aiming for relatively modest 6.5% growth over the next 12 months.  Canadian yield cos, like TransAlta Renewables (TRSWF or RNW.TO) and Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners (BEP, BEP-UN.TO) have not laid out specific dividend growth targets, but do have reasonably aggressive growth plans which are likely to boost distributable cash flow and dividends over time.

The three London-listed yield cos, The Renewables Infrastructure Group (TRIG.L), Greencoat Wind (UKW.L), and Bluefield Solar Income Fund (BSIF.L) are less aggressive, and aim simply to increase distributions in line with inflation.

Sources Of Growth

Investing Cash Flow
Since yield cos return most of their investable cash to shareholders, most expected future dividend growth cannot come from re-investing earnings, as we would expect from traditional growth companies.  Hence, dividend growth will have to come either from issuing debt and using that to buy assets, or from buying assets (with debt or new equity) at low prices which make those assets significantly accretive to cash flow per share.

Debt
If debt is used to buy new assets, this will generally increase the dividend, but it will also increase overall risk to shareholders.  There is also a natural limit to debt, because there will come a point where lenders will become unwilling to provide additional funds.  Because of the increased risk inherent in using debt to buy assets and boost the dividend, I do not ascribe much value to dividend increases arising from increasing debt.

Developing Assets In House
In contrast, the ability of a company to obtain clean energy assets such as wind and solar farms at low prices has real value.  With the exception of TransAlta Renewables, the Canadian yield cos including Brookfield Renewable Energy, Primary Energy Recycling (PENGF, PRI.TO), Innergex Renewable Energy (INGXF, INE.TO), and Capstone Infrastructure (MCQPF, CSE.TO) have a tradition of developing projects in house as well as purchasing them from other developers when such projects are available at attractive prices.

In contrast, the US listed yield cos rely on others to develop projects for them.  Hannon Armstrong is fairly unique in this regard, because it is an investment bank which has relationships with a number of blue chip companies that develop energy efficiency and other sustainable infrastructure projects for which it obtains the financing.  Before Hannon Armstrong's IPO, it financed these projects by bundling the debt and selling it to institutional investors like pension funds. Now, while it still creates packages of investments for pension funds, it also keeps some such projects on the books.

I expect that Hannon Armstrong's position as the leading investment bank for such projects as well as its existing relationships should continue to enable the company to invest at attractive prices and continue increasing its dividend.

ROFOs
The other yield cos (NRG Yield, NextEra Energy Partners, Terraform Power, Abengoa Yield, Pattern Energy Group, and TransAlta Renewables) are relying on "Right Of First Offer" or ROFO agreements with their parent companies to obtain projects at attractive prices.  The parent companies are all experienced project developers, and those parents with large portfolios assets and concrete road maps for dropping them down to their yield co offspring have been rewarded with the highest yield co share prices and the lowest current yields

The highest yield among the US-listed ROFO yield co is Pattern Energy Group.  Its parent, Pattern Development is a private company with only a handful of projects that it is currently developing. The other ROFO yield cos all have publicly listed parents which already own significant clean energy assets, and are developing new ones as well.  They have low yields and high stock prices to match. 

The one exception is TransAlta Renewables, which trades at a 6.5% yield, compared to the 2% to 4% yields available on US listed ROFO yield cos.   Its low price and high yield are due in part to the fact that its parent, TransAlta Corp (TAC), has not explained precisely which assets it plans to sell to TransAlta Renewables, and at what prices.  TransAlta Renewables' lack of a US listing is also likely to be part of the reason for its high yield, but even given these factors, I consider TransAlta Renewables to be massively undervalued compared to the other ROFO yield cos.

Finite Growth

The flood of new capital which current and expected future yield cos are bringing to the market is likely to have significant effects on the price clean energy projects sell for.  Most such projects take years to develop, and so the short term supply is limited.  A large source of new capital chasing a finite number of projects is likely to boost the value of those projects on the market. 

As project prices rise and ROFO agreements expire, we can expect that they will be renewed only with prices which are less attractive to the yield cos. Yield cos which develop projects in house will also find that their costs rise as other developers enter the market in order to sell projects into a robust market fueled by cheap yield co money.

Hence, while yield cos many be able to hit their aggressive short term dividend growth targets, this growth must slow over the longer term.  I personally am only willing to believe current projections one to three years into the future.  To reflect that, I have put together the following chart of the 15 yield cos current yield and expected yield growth over the next two years.


Yieldcos by yield.png
The horizontal lines show current yield, the x-axis shows how much yield is expected to increase over the next two years, and the diagonal lines combine these two to show expected yield in two years.

The Best

Paying a high price for a yield co not only reduces its current yield, it also reduces the effect of even very aggressive dividend growth targets.  The chart reflects NRG Yield's extremely aggressive dividend growth target (15% to 18%) with an assumed annual dividend growth of 16.5%.  Because NRG Yield has such a high price, its current yield is only 2.8%, and two years of compounded 16.5% growth bring it up to only 3.8%. Pattern Energy Group may have a less impressive (but still proven) parent in Pattern Development, but it offers a 3.8% yield today. With that sort of head start, it will have no trouble staying ahead of its US-listed ROFO yield co brethren.

Looking at the upper right hand corner of the chart, we see Hannon Armstrong and TransAlta Renewables.  These offer current yields of 6.1% and 6.5% respectively.  NRG Yield would have to grow its dividend at 16.5% per year for five years just to get to where Hannon Armstrong is today.  NextEra Energy Partners, TerraForm Power, and Abengoa Yield would require even longer to get there.

In short, a dividend today is worth more than years of potential dividend growth.  Among the current crop of yield cos, I consider TransAlta Renewables, Hannon Armstrong, Capstone Infrastructure, Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners, Primary Energy Recycling, and Innergex Renewable the most attractive, in that order.  The London listed yield cos are also attractive, especially for geographic diversification, but are extremely difficult to buy for US based investors.  The only one I've been able to purchase is The Renewables Infrastructure Group (TRIG.L).

This ranking of yield cos is almost entirely based on current and future expected yield.  Primary Energy gets a slight boost in the rankings because of the real possibility of a takeover offer in the near future.  In the last article, I looked into how each of the yield cos were structured.  There, I noted that some (especially Abengoa Yield, NextEra Energy Partners, and Terraform Power) have structures which don't completely align management incentives with the interests common shareholders.  That said, the most of the yield cos with the highest yield also have the best alignment of management and shareholder interests.  My analysis of yield co structure only served to re-enforce my preference for those yield cos with the highest current yields.

In the end, is there any fairer way to evaluate yield cos than on the basis of yield?  Without yield, the term "yield co" is just PR.

Disclosure: Long HASI, BEP, PEGI, RNW, CSE, INE, PRI, TRIG.  Short NYLD Calls.

DISCLAIMER: Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results.  This article contains the current opinions of the author and such opinions are subject to change without notice.  This article has been distributed for informational purposes only. Forecasts, estimates, and certain information contained herein should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product.  Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed.

July 21, 2014

China Poised For Significant Expansion In Wind Power Generation

by William Gregozeski, CFA

China is the world’s largest producer of electricity, surpassing the United States in 2011, with demand increasing alongside its strong, sustained growth in GDP.  Electricity generation in China has increased 9.6% annually, from 2005 to 2013, reaching 5,425.1TWh of electricity.  Coal-fired plants currently make up over two-thirds of power generation, which is partly the result of an abundance of coal in China.  Despite this growth, the country expects demand to continue to increase at a rapid pace, reaching 7.295TWh of demand in 2020 and 11,595TWh in 2040. 
 
However, the growth in electricity production from coal-fired plants has resulted in an increase in air pollution and general lack of efficiency.  China is now moving aggressively to curb pollution and increase the supply of renewable power.  The central government has prohibited new coal-fired plants to be built around Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing, which is currently in the midst of having all of its coal plants being converted to natural gas.  Its 12th Five Year Plan, running through 2015, targeted non-fossil fuel energy to account for 15% of total energy consumption.  One of the key industries expected to help meet these goals is wind power. 
 
China Energy Consumption by type.png  
China installed capacity by fuel.png  
China is the world’s largest wind energy producer, with over 90GW of installed capacity as of the end of 2013.  Despite this large figure, the country added 16.1GW of capacity in 2013, up from 13.0GW of new capacity in 2012, and is aiming to add 18.0GW of new capacity in 2014.  By comparison, China added roughly 3.0GW of solar power in 2013, reaching 10.0GW of installed capacity.  In 2013, wind power contributed 137.1TWh of electricity generation, which equates to just 2.5% of total power generation in China.  Based on 90GW of installed capacity at the end of the year and the average wind farm in China operating for 2,000 hours in 2013, up from 1,900 hours in 2012, China’s installed wind capacity was operating at a run rate of 180.0TWh of power generation. 
 
China wind power growth.png  
 While 15% is the near term renewable target, the potential of wind in China is much greater.  In 2009, researchers from Harvard and Tsinghua University found China could generate all of its power profitably from wind alone, making wind power an attractive alternative to coal power, especially as the government moves to reduce pollution.  While the potential for 100% wind power exists, there are a number of practical issues that must be resolved first, including the country’s power grid.  Roughly 15% to 20% of all of the country’s installed wind capacity is not grid connected, due to the lack of transmission infrastructure. 
 
Like other industries in China, the central government plays a key role in the power industry, controlling the power grid and electricity prices.  The power grid in China is tightly controlled by three State Owned Enterprises, led by the State Grid Corporation of China, which provides power to 88% of China and is the seventh largest company in the world, according to Forbes.  The other two grid companies in China are China Southern Power Grid and Inner Mongolia Electric Power Transmission.  Investment in the Chinese power grid has grown 11.4% annually over the last five years.  This growth should accelerate as the State Grid announced in January it plans to increase power grid construction by nearly 20%, with investments that include constructing ultra-high voltage transmission lines and cross-region grids, which should help spur demand for wind energy and enable off-grid wind capacity to be brought online. 
 
The role of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) on the power production industry is also favorable to wind power.  The NDRC not only sets power prices, but also has the role of pushing for increases in renewable power production through measures such as legally requiring the power grid to purchase all renewable power and establishing a subsidy to spur investment in the industry.  Prices set by the NDRC are generally not based on market dynamics, but rather set based on the greater good of the country.  The price of coal has been volatile in recent years.  This, coupled with the constant electricity purchase price has led to large swings between profitability and losses for these producers.  On the other hand, wind is well suited to thrive in this environment due to its lack of a commodity feedstock and small ongoing operating expenses. 
 
William Gregozeski, CFA is the Director of Research at Greenridge Global, a provider of institutional-based sell-side services to underfollowed Asian-based companies and special situation stocks.  The author of this article, Greenridge Global and its affiliates do not have a beneficial ownership in the companies mentioned herein or any other disclosable conflicts of interest.
 

July 20, 2014

Fifteen Clean Energy Yield Cos: Company Structure

Tom Konrad CFA

In the first article of this survey of yield cos, I looked at the possible reasons for the seemingly endless enthusiasm for US-listed clean energy yield cos.  Here, I'll take a look at how these yield cos are constructed, and why investors should prefer one structure over another.

Who's Your Daddy?

Most yield cos have been created by clean energy project developers in order to create a ready, low-cost buyer for those projects.  With the recent string of very successful IPOs, the capital available for such projects may prove to be even lower cost than anyone expected.  Terraform Power's (TERP) on July 18th only makes it more certain that other developers and owners of operating clean energy projects will be rushing new yield cos to market.

A yield co's parent company is often its largest shareholder, and the relationship may work either to the advantage or disadvantage of other shareholders.  On the plus side, many yield cos have a "Right of First Offer" (ROFO) for projects the parent develops.  While the details of ROFOs may vary among yield cos, a ROFO will always be a potential source of value for the yield co because it may provide access to a pipeline of projects at favorable prices, or at least the benefits of dealing with a familiar party such as lower due diligence costs for project acquisitions.  Since a ROFO is a "right," not an obligation to buy projects, having a ROFO with an established developer is an advantage for a yield co, and is likely to be a greater advantage if the parent has a large pipeline of projects.

On the other had, many yield cos' cozy relationships with their parents could easy lead to choices which are not in the best interests of other yield co shareholders.  A ROFO may give the yield co the right to buy a project, but this right is of no value unless the project in question is sold at an attractive price. In some cases, the parent may use its effective control of yield co decisions to obtain above-market prices for unwanted projects, doing harm to other yield co shareholders.

Conflicts of Interest

I expect that it will be virtually impossible for most yield cos to escape the influence of their parent companies.  In order to mitigate the risk that the parent uses its influence to the detriment of other shareholders, it's very important that the parent's interests be completely aligned with those shareholders.  For this purpose, I like the parent company to own a large stake in the yield co composed of the same class of shares as common shareholders. 

Another red flag is "Incentive Distribution Rights" or IDRs.  IDRs allow parent company to receive an increasing percentage of distribution increases.  Advocates of IDRs say that they provide the parent with an incentive to increase the distribution as quickly as possible.  However, if the parent already owns a large stake in the yield co, the distributions themselves should provide adequate incentive for this purpose. 

IDR are also asymmetric  incentives: they pay off for the parent when distributions increase, but do not inflict a penalty for a decrease in distributions.  Because of their asymmetric nature, IDRs may incentivize increased risk taking, such as using higher levels of debt to increase the dividend.  I prefer yield cos without IDRs, or IDRs at low percentages. 

Corporate Structures

Most yield cos are organized as corporations, but a few are partnerships.  The partnership structure facilitates the use of IDRs, but I consider the corporate form of a partnership to be less important than the existence and level of any IDR. 

15 Yield Cos

Six US-Listed Yield Cos

Name (Ticker)
NRG Yield (NYLD)
Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure (HASI)
Annual dividend (Management dividend growth target) $1.45 (15-18%, five years)
$0.88 (13% to 15% for 2 years)
Parent (Ticker)
NRG Energy (NRG)
None
Parent's retained interest
65.5% voting with complex share structure.
n/a
Relationship with parent
ROFO. Parent earns management fee based on assets.
Management has significant stake in common shares; insiders mostly buying in public market.
Assets
Solar, Wind, Thermal (facility heating and cooling)
Energy efficiency (performance contracts), Wind, Solar, Geothermal, water, telecommunications and other sustainable infrastructure all of which must contribute to reductions in GHG emissions.

Name (Ticker)
Pattern Energy Group (PEGI)
Terraform Power (TERP)
Annual dividend (Management dividend growth target) $1.29 (10% to 12% for three years)
$0.9028 (15% for 3 years)
Parent (Ticker)
Pattern Development (private)
SunEdison (SUNE)
Parent's retained interest
35%
71%
Relationship with parent
ROFO. Parent will not compete for projects.
ROFO, IDR starting at 0% but increasing to 50%.
Assets
Wind
Solar

Name (Ticker)
NextEra Energy Partners (NEP)
Abengoa Yield (ABY)
Annual dividend (Management target dividend growth) $0.75 (12% to 15% over 3 years)
$1.04 ( 6.5%, 12 months)
Parent (Ticker)
NextEra (NEE)
Abengoa SA (ABGB)
Parent's retained interest
79.9%
66.8%
Relationship with parent
ROFO, IDR starting at 0% but increasing to 50%
ROFO. Parent provides line of credit.  Will have interal management after 1 year.
Assets
Wind, Solar
Solar, Wind, Transmission, Conventional generation (gas)

 Four Canadian Yield Cos and One Dual-Listed Yield Co

Most of the Canadian "yield cos" have existed much longer than the term "yield co," which was coined last year.  With the exception of TransAlta Renewables, these were former Canadian Income Trusts, a structure which lost its tax benefits 2011.  The ones I have chosen to include here are the ones with the highest proportion of clean energy assets.

Name (Canadian Ticker, US OTC Ticker)
TransAlta Renewables (RNW.TO, TRSWF)
Capstone Infrastructure Corp: (CSE.TO, MCQPF)
Annual dividend (My estimate of future growth) C$0.77  (8% to 15%, 2-3 years)
C$0.30 (0%, 2-3 years)
Parent (Ticker)
TransAlta Corp (TAC)
None
Parent's retained interest
70.3%
n/a
Relationship with parent
ROFO, managed by parent for management fee based on EBITDA; Parent also supplying line of credit.
Develops projects in-house.
Assets
Wind, Hydro
Combined Heat and Power, Wind, Hydro, Solar, Water utility, district heating

Name (Canadian Ticker, US OTC Ticker) Innergex Renewable Energy (INE.TO, INGXF) Primary Energy Recycling (PRI.TO, PENGF)
Annual dividend (My estimate of future growth) C$0.60 (2% sustained)
US$0.28 (0%, 2-3 years)
Parent (Ticker)
None
None.
Relationship with parent Develops projects in-house. Develops projects in-house. 
Other notes

The company has stated that it may be for sale.
Assets
Hydro, Wind, Solar Waste Heat Recovery, Combined Heat and Power


Name (US Ticker, Canadian ticker)
Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners (BEP, BEP-UN.TO)
Annual dividend (Historical dividend growth) $1.55 (12%)
Parent (Ticker)
Brookfield Asset Management (BAM)
Parent's retained interest
65%
Relationship with parent
Develops projects in-house.  IDR at 15% of future increases eventually rising to 25%
Assets
Hydro, Wind, Combined Heat and Power

Three UK Listed Yield Cos

These are organized as investment companies, and securities laws make them difficult if not impossible for US based investors to purchase.  Because of this, I'm including the UK based yield cos mostly for comparison purpose.

Name (Ticker)
The Renewables Infrastructure Group (TRIG.L)
Greencoat Wind (UKW.L)
Bluefield Solar Income Fund (BSIF.L)
Annual dividend (Target dividend growth) 6p (with inflation)
6.16p (with inflation)
7p (with inflation)
Parent (Ticker)
The RES Group (private)
none
none
Assets
Wind, Solar
Wind
Solar

Yieldcos by fuel

Up Next

The final article in this series will discuss which I consider the most attractive investments, and why.

Disclosure: Long HASI, BEP, PEGI, RNW, CSE, INE, PRI, TRIG.  Short NYLD Calls.

DISCLAIMER: Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results.  This article contains the current opinions of the author and such opinions are subject to change without notice.  This article has been distributed for informational purposes only. Forecasts, estimates, and certain information contained herein should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product.  Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed.

July 19, 2014

Bumpy Uphill Road For BYD EVs

Doug Young

Electric vehicle maker BYD (HKEx: 1211; Shenzhen: 002594; OTC:BYDDF) has been zipping in and out of the headlines this past week, including its latest announcement that it will open a manufacturing plant in Brazil to service the BRICS country and the broader Latin American market. The company’s EV business, a major factor that attracted billionaire investor Warren Buffett as a major backer, also got good news from Beijing this week with word of a major government drive to boost new energy vehicle buying.

Despite those positive moves, the company still has yet to received its first major overseas order, though it has certainly set up many pilot programs. Such programs make good headlines, even though they result in very limited actual business. And those programs receive far less attention when they end in failure, which is what recently happened to a high-profile trial in a city near Los Angeles.

Despite the rocky road these last few months, investors seem to be turning bullish on BYD once more after a prolonged slump for its stock due to tumbling profits and poor performance for its older gas-powered car and battery businesses. The company’s shares have more than tripled over the last 2 years, and are up more than 20 percent this year as optimism returns to its EV business.

In its latest piece of upbeat news, BYD announced it will open its first factory in Brazil, with an investment of about $90 million and 450 workers. (company announcement) Operations will begin next year at the plant, which will have an initial capacity to produce 1,000 electric buses each year. BYD made a similar investment announcement for a plant in nearby Argentina in 2011. (previous post)

The bigger news that got investors excited came earlier this week when Beijing announced a major drive to promote EVs through strict quotas for government vehicle buying. Under those quotas, China will require that new energy vehicles account for 30 percent of all government vehicle buying by 2016. (English article) Beijing has also announced a wide range of other new incentives recently, including cheap or free licenses for such vehicles and low tax rates.

China has announced similar incentives in the past, though few have had much effect among the broader consumer market. The mandating of such high quotas for government vehicle buying looks a bit more promising, as it relies on non-negotiable directives rather than financial incentives. But governments can always find ways to get around such quotas, for example by buying cheap electric motorcycles or other cheap low-tech EVs to meet their government targets.

Anyone looking for a better indicator of the longer-term viability for BYD’s EV business would be better to focus on the company’s international programs, which are truly market driven. A company spokesman recently told me BYD is on track to deliver around 4,000 electric buses this year, though it may have to delay some deliveries due to constraints in its manufacturing capacity. The company has 3 pilot programs going in California, and a number of programs in Western Europe and other markets scattered around the world.

But its drive into California also received a major setback earlier this year when the city of Long Beach canceled a high-profile pilot program for the company’s buses. That program had been the subject of previous controversy over accusations of labor law violations, though the spokesman said the cancellation was due to lack of funding rather than labor or technology issues.

Loss of that contract highlights the very real possibility that some or perhaps even many of BYD’s overseas pilot programs could end without any big orders. We’ll have to wait and see if and when any of the pilot programs finally results in one such big order, though I’m sure BYD will make sure that everyone knows when that finally happens.

Bottom line: A string of positive developments could help maintain a rally for BYD stock, but the real sign of long-term viability for its EVs will be a big order from one of its global pilot programs.

Doug Young has lived and worked in China for 15 years, much of that as a journalist for Reuters writing about Chinese companies. He currently lives in Shanghai where he teaches financial journalism at Fudan University. He writes daily on his blog, Young´s China Business Blog, commenting on the latest developments at Chinese companies listed in the US, China and Hong Kong. He is also author of a new book about the media in China, The Party Line: How The Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.

July 18, 2014

Rulings Boost China Wind, Solar In US

Doug Young

In a quirk of timing, 2 completely unrelated rulings are boosting the outlook for Chinese new energy firms from the wind and solar sectors in their complex relationship with the US. The 2 cases are quite different, but each reflects the wariness Washington feels towards these Chinese firms due to their government ties. In the bigger of the 2 cases, a World Trade Organization panel has ruled that US anti-dumping tariffs against Chinese solar panel makers violate WTO rules. In the second case, a US judge’s ruling has given a boost to a Chinese firm that planned to build a wind farm in the state of Oregon, only to get vetoed by Washington over national security concerns.

Neither of these rulings is the end of the story, and it’s still quite possible that Washington could prevail in one or both cases. But the WTO ruling in the solar case could be a tough one for Washington to fight, for reasons that I’ll explain shortly. That could be good news for the entire solar panel sector, as it could force Washington to seek a negotiated settlement in the matter. Such a deal would benefit nearly everyone by maintaining strong global competition, which is a critical element to foster rapid industry development.

All that said, let’s start with a look at the WTO ruling, which was part of a broader series of decisions critical of Washington’s anti-dumping duties. (English article) Washington had argued that Chinese solar panel makers received unfair government subsidies in a number of ways, from subsidized use of government land, to cheap loans from state-run banks, and tax incentives. The US conducted its own investigation 2 years ago, which ended with its decision to impose punitive tariffs against the Chinese firm.

The WTO’s ruling doesn’t dispute Washington’s premise of unfair state subsidies, but rather finds fault with part of the process. Put simply, the WTO’s rules say countries can only impose such anti-dumping penalties if they can prove the guilty companies are wholly or at least partly state owned. That’s a bit problematic in this instance, since many of China’s biggest solar panel makers started out as venture-backed private companies that are now big publicly-traded firms.

In my view the WTO ruling seems based on a technicality, since China clearly subsidizes all domestic solar panel makers due to Beijing’s decision to aggressively promote the industry. But rules are rules, and Washington and everyone else needs to respect the WTO’s guidelines. Washington could still try to prove that private Chinese panel makers like Yingli (NYSE: YGE) and Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ) are somehow partly state-owned; but I’m hopeful that maybe the Obama administration will use this moment to re-examine its stance and try to seek a negotiated settlement in the matter.

Meantime on the wind front, a US judge has ruled the Obama administration wasn’t transparent enough when it cited national security concerns as its reason for vetoing a planned wind farm being built by construction equipment maker Sany Heavy (Shanghai: 600031). (English article) This particular case dates back nearly 2 years ago, and reverses a previous ruling by a lower court that had sided with the Obama administration.

In this latest ruling, the judge said the Obama administration was too secretive about its reasons for vetoing the plan, which denied Sany the right to defend itself or seek modifications that might placate the government. Previous reports had speculated that Washington was worried about spying, since the wind farm’s location was near a defense plant making high-tech drone aircraft. I would agree with the judge in this matter, and say that Washington needs to provide at least some of the evidence behind its decision that is likely to cost Sany millions of dollars in lost investment.

Bottom line: A WTO ruling against US anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese solar panels could force Washington to re-think its stance in the matter and seek a negotiated settlement.

Doug Young has lived and worked in China for 15 years, much of that as a journalist for Reuters writing about Chinese companies. He currently lives in Shanghai where he teaches financial journalism at Fudan University. He writes daily on his blog, Young´s China Business Blog, commenting on the latest developments at Chinese companies listed in the US, China and Hong Kong. He is also author of a new book about the media in China, The Party Line: How The Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.

July 16, 2014

Fifteen Clean Energy Yield Cos, Created Unequal

Tom Konrad CFA

Renewable Energy Investing Grows Up.

In January I predicted 2014 would be the year "renewable energy finance comes of age."  Here's how Jennifer Runyon quoted me on Renewable Energy World:

Konrad believes that 2014 will be a great year for renewable energy finance, he said.  He said that we saw the beginning of it in 2013 with the securitization of a bond by Solar City (SCTY) and pointed to Hannon Armstrong’s (HASI) securitization of an energy efficiency bond in late December 2013 as another indicator that renewable energy financing is on track to take off in 2014.

“I think that we will see a few publicly traded ‘yield cos’ (yield companies) in solar listed in 2014,” he said.  A yield co is a publicly traded company that is oriented towards income as opposed to growth.  This type of investment opportunity is a major switch, said Konrad.  “Any stock you have ever written about pretty much has been a growth stock,” he explained.  “Tesla (TSLA) is a growth stock.  People buy Tesla because they think they are going to keep on gaining market share,” he clarified.

“Now there are some new income stocks that came public last year: Hannon Armstrong, Pattern Energy Holdings (PEGI), NRG Yield (NYLD) and Brookfield Renewable Energy (BEP), so there are four, I would say, renewable energy income stocks on U.S. exchanges.”

...Once renewable energy assets are operating efficiently, they generate payback for their investors.  Now that the technology has matured enough to gain the trust of some of the more reticent, risk-averse investors like corporations and banks, expect to see lower cost of capital for projects and greater interest in renewable energy stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

Renewable Energy Investing's Awkward Teens.

It now looks like just "a few" yield cos may be an underestimate. Last month, Abengoa (ABGB) and NextEra (NEE) launched yield co spin-offs Abengoa Yield (ABY) and NextEra Energy Partners (NEP), respectively.  Both IPOs were oversubscribed and priced at the top end of their expected range.  Along with NRG Yield (a spinoff of alternative energy assets from NRG Energy (NRG) from last year) and Pattern Energy Group (PEGI), launched by privately held Pattern Development, these are all up substantially (38% for ABY to 131% for NYLD) from their offering price.  In fact, they are up so substantially that their yields have fallen so far as to lend the very term "yield co" a hint of irony. 

The only real US-listed exceptions are Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure (HASI) and Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners (BEP,) which still offer yields of 6.6% and 5.5%, respectively.  I suspect their relatively high yields arise from two factors, a rational one having to do with tax treatment and an irrational one having to do only with investor perception (or lack thereof.) 

With regards to tax, BEP is organized as a partnership and HASI is organized as a REIT, meaning that distributions from HASI are taxed as income, not at the lower rate for qualified dividends, and some investors may not want to bother with the added complication of receiving an annual K-1 from BEP.  Certain institutional investors such as many index funds also avoid there less usual corporate structures. 

While differential tax treatment of dividends can have a significant impact on high income investors, possible investor aversion to the partnership structure has not put investors off NextEra Energy Partners' stock because that company will be taxed as a corporation.  At most, these factors might justify a 20% to 40% discount for HASI, and a 10% to 25% discount for BEP.  Yet even after such discounts, they both trade at about two-thirds of the prices which would put them on par with the typical US-listed yield co.

I think the part of the discounts on BEP and HASI which is not accounted for by their tax structures can be ascribed to the immaturity of yield co investing.  To extend my coming of age metaphor, renewable energy income investors are acting like teenagers: they're a little new to the dating scene, and are more concerned about getting a date for the prom (yield co investment) than they are about the long term viability of the relationship.

Finding An Adult Relationship

I've been managing money professionally as long as many teenagers have been alive, and at this point I'm more interested in a stock's long term potential for total return than dating stock market prom queens. This article is the first in a series which will compare the fifteen publicly traded stocks in the US, UK, and Canada which meet my definition of yield co: a company which owns primarily clean energy assets for the purpose of generating income which is mostly returned to investors in the form of distribution.

For a taste, the following chart shows the types of assets and the portion of the market capitalization not currently owned by the company's sponsor ("market float.")  The numbers for Terraform Power (TERP) are based on the assumption that, like ABY and NEP, the offering will price at the top end of its range ($21) and that the underwriters exercise their full over allotment option.

UPDATE: The next two installments are here and here.

Yieldcos by fuel.png

Disclosure: Long HASI, BEP, PEGI, RNW, CSE, INE, PRI, TRIG.  Short NYLD Calls.

DISCLAIMER: Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results.  This article contains the current opinions of the author and such opinions are subject to change without notice.  This article has been distributed for informational purposes only. Forecasts, estimates, and certain information contained herein should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product.  Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed.

July 14, 2014

The Story Is Storage

by Joseph McCabe, PE

Walking into the 2014 Intersolar North America San Francisco exhibit it became apparent there was a story embedded in the products and services displayed on the three different floors of the Moscone Center West. The third floor of the exhibits was dominated by PV structure companies which have entered into a competitive blood bath since our last report. Dominating the first floor were Chinese PV manufacturers Jinko Solar (NYSE: JKS), Canadian Solar (NYSE: CSIQ), Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL) and Yingli (NYSE: YGE) all sharing the center exhibit space. Although Chinese solar is a popular topic due to newly imposed import duties, and the PV racking industry is highly competitive, the dominant story of this year’s event was storage which dominated both the conference and the second floor 2014 Intersolar NA exhibits. On-going storage side-sessions were held adjacent to the storage focused exhibits.

Storage Role in the PV Industry

Storage has become such a hot topic because consumer, commercial, industrial and utility PV installations can now benefit from electrical storage. Storage is important for maintaining consistent electrical output from PV due to clouds; enables PV systems to store energy in the morning for dispatching during later hours of the day when the sun has gone down, when the electricity is more valuable; and allows for other high value grid related support functions.

Storage is becoming more prevalent in today’s PV industry for at least two reasons: 1. Because of lower PV installation costs, there are more and more PV installations. Higher amounts of PV, and a higher percentage of PV on the grid requires storage to smooth out drops in PV power output due to clouds, called intermittency (especially important in isolated grids with lots of PV such as in Hawaii).   2. Lower electrical storage costs from batteries, driven by the electric automotive industry, are enabling lower costs and more functionality for PV combined with electrical storage. These factors combined with the now available advanced functionality from PV inverters are opening up new markets for storage. New policies, new electrical tariffs (the way utilities charge customers) and new storage use cases are creating profits for both the PV industry and the utilities. There are many different types of electrical storage which are used for different reasons, some of which are discussed in a previous article. The different kinds of storage will play out in the industry for their particular functionality, cost advantages and reliability.

Eaton booth

Electrical storage requires integration with inverters; in a PV system an inverter with storage produces a more complete, reliable energy solution. Big industrial electronics players like ABB (NYSE: ABB, formerly Power-One inverters), EATON (NYSE: ETN), TMEIC, Bonfiglioli, Advanced Energy (NASDAQ: AEIS) and Solectria Renewables were exhibiting larger and larger inverter solutions including ones integrated with storage.

Solectria booth

ABB booth

There were inverter company exhibits from Outback Power, SolarEdge, Chint Power and Magnum Energy. Kaco, Fronius and SMA (XETRA: S92.DE) have announced US consumer grid tied inverters integrated with electrical storage, similar to those currently offered in Europe. Those companies did not have exhibits but SMA did have a van parked outside displaying their smaller technologies.

sma van

Storage companies like Bosch Energy Storage, JuiceBox Energy, Ideal Power (NASDAQ: IPWR), Princeton Power Systems, Energy Toolbase, Sonnenbatterie GmbH, Hoppecke, Rolls Battery of New England, S&C Electric Company, VARTA Storage, American Vanadium (CVE: AVC.V) and Stem filled up a major portion of the second floor exhibit space.

Aquion storage

Aquion Energy 7 kW, 22 kWh (at 20 hours and 30 degrees C) pallet of storage weighs 3,175 lbs and has a more than 3,000 cycle life. This particular technology doesn’t have chemical fire safety issues inherent with other technologies.

Vanadium redox batteries were discussed in sessions and displayed at this years exhibit. Vanadium redox is an interesting storage technology because in addition to the fast response time for dispatching electricity, it has an end of life value; vanadium is used for strengthening steel for rebar and other stronger, lighter materials when converted to ferrovanadium for use as a steel additive.

Policy leads to profits diagramMany policies are driving storage including California’s AB514, Self Generation Incentive Program, and Electric Program Investment Charge, ConEd’s Demand Management, NYSERDA PV Incentive and Reforming the Energy Vision, Massachusetts Community Resiliency Technical Assistance, New Jersey Storage Incentive, and Rule 21. If storage is positioned correctly with PV it can obtain the federal investment tax credit (ITC). Storage projects are beginning to be implemented with request for offers (RFO) and request for proposals (RFP) for storage at Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO), Southern California Public Power Authority (SCPPA), Southern California Edison (SCE) and Long Island Power Authority (LIPA).

Valuing Storage, Rule 21

What wasn’t being discussed very much at the 2014 Intersolar meeting and relates directly to storage was Rule 21.  Rule 21 is the new utility tariff in California which will be driving the values from/for these electronics and storage solutions. July 18th 2014 is the current deadline for submission of new Rule 21 tariffs by the California Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). New functions including storage will be implemented, and paid for by these new tariffs.

The proposed first seven functions to be implemented by Rule 21 are Anti-Islanding Protection, Low and High Voltage Ride-Through, Low and High Frequency Ride-Through, Dynamic Volt-Var Operation, Ramp Rates, Fixed Power Factor and Soft Start Reconnection. Some of these functions enable greater PV on the grid, while others provide higher values from PV systems to the grid. Benefits to the utility from, for example, distributed power factor correction (reactive power correction) include but are not limited to increasing available grid capacities, reducing grid losses, and decreasing grid congestion.  These functions help to set the stage for greater amounts of storage + PV on the grid. For example, Anti-Islanding Protection is needed if there are many storage units connected to PV systems. The communications for all these smart grid and advanced functions are being developed by industry players like SunSpec Alliance; communications are the second phase of Rule 21. Storage plays a dominant role in the third phase where scheduling of energy services will become implemented. All these phases will play out in California in the next few years.

Turn-key Storage Solutions

I particularly impressed by a company named Greensmith. They are currently a privately held company with a reported $14M private investment and offices in Maryland and California. The history of this company dates back to 2008 with software development. Finding it easier to do the front and back end hardware themselves they became a turnkey solution for grid support and energy storage. They have a chemistry-neutral battery management system which makes them relevant to the whole storage landscape. The functions being provided by Greensmith are finding utility markets with New Jersey’s PJM frequency response, New York’s energy arbitrage (example: pumped storage resources can arbitrage price by purchasing lower priced off-peak power and selling power during peak hours of the day along with demand management due to Indian Point shut down) and the previous mentioned California Rule 21 tariff. These functions also include ramp rate control, smoothing, peak shaving and capacity shifting. CEO John Jung provided a presentation to the sessions held at the Intercontinental. They have 30 systems installed at 9 utilities with experience in 8 batteries and 6 inverter technologies. The largest of which is a 20 MW turn-key system. Systems include a 500 kW / 1.5 MWh storage system in San Diego and EV Charge + PV in Brooklyn, NY and Honolulu, HI.

greensmith booth

Conclusion

PV combined with storage is becoming more important in the PV industry because of lower costs and greater monetizable values for increased electrical services. Energy, demand, power factor and frequency response are just some of the utility values driving the increased attention for storage when combined with PV.  Turn-key system solutions that address specific use cases for storage will be driving the near-term markets for grid connected storage in the PV industry.

Disclosure: No positions. Photos were taken before exhibits opened.

Joseph McCabe is an international solar industry expert with over 20 years in the business. He is a Solar Energy Society Fellow, a Professional Engineer, and is a recognized expert in developing new business models for the industry including Community Solar Gardens and Utility Owned Inverters. McCabe has a Masters Degree in Nuclear and Energy Engineering and a Masters Degree of Business Administration.

Joe is a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks and can be reached at energy [no space] ideas at gmail dotcom

This article was first published on AltEnergyStocks.com.  Joe will attempt to answer any comments left on the original article [link].

July 10, 2014

Tesla Faces Costly Trademark Headache

Doug Young

Tesla Logo
Tesla trademark
dispute resurfaces.

After zooming into China with a slick publicity campaign earlier this year, electric car superstar  Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA) has run into a major new roadblock in one of its most promising markets over a trademark dispute. Tesla thought it had settled a matter that jumped into the headlines last summer as it was preparing to formally move into China. But apparently the trademark squatter who purchased the Tesla names in English and Chinese wasn’t satisfied, and has formally sued the company. Based on past cases, this one could be costly for Tesla, forcing it to pay tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars if it wants to reclaim its name in China.

I’ve previously said that China needs to be more business friendly in this kind of dispute, where opportunistic buyers often hold big corporations hostage. But China seems determined to uphold its laws that often seem to favor those opportunists, not only hurting big foreign names like Tesla but also harming homegrown companies. This kind of opportunism is in the same spirit as many of the less ethical business practices that are common in China landscape, ultimately slowing or stalling the development of new industries.

Tesla thought it had settled its trademark dispute with businessman Zhan Baosheng, who purchased the company’s trademarks in both English and Chinese back in 2006. (previous post) But Zhan didn’t see things that way, and has now sued Tesla for trademark infringement, demanding the company stop using the trademarks in China and pay him 23.9 million yuan ($4 million) in damages. Zhan is also demanding that Tesla cease all marketing activities, shut down its showrooms and also stop development of its national network of charging stations.

The Beijing court has agreed to hear the case on August 5. That means it believes that Zhan may have some legal grounds for his actions, since Chinese courts typically refuse to hear such cases if they believe the plaintiff has no chance of winning. In this instance it’s hard to know what exactly happened, as neither Tesla nor Zhan is publicly commenting about the case. Tesla had said early this year that the matter was settled and delivered its first cars in China in April in a series of high-profile appearances by the company’s charismatic founder Elon Musk. (previous post)

The case looks quite similar to another high-profile dispute in 2012 involving Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and its iPad name. In that case, a bankrupt firm named Proview bought the name a decade earlier for a product that never found a market and ceased manufacturing long before the rise of Apple’s popular tablet PCs. Apple even thought it had legally purchased the name from Proview, but a technical glitch meant the transfer was never completed. Rather than honor the spirit of its earlier agreement to sell the name, Proview took the matter to court and Apple was ultimately forced to pay $60 million for the trademark.

The businessman in this latest case probably won’t stop Tesla’s drive into China, but he could easily slow things down with this major distraction. One element in Tesla’s favor is Beijing’s strong desire to promote electric cars as it looks to clean up the nation’s polluted air. There was no such element in the Apple story. To the contrary, Apple may have even gotten harsher treatment than most other companies due to its perception as arrogant by some in Beijing.

While politics could help in this situation, Beijing leaders in the past have shown a surprising lack of willingness to get involved such matters where opportunists attempt to manipulate the law. That’s certainly a desirable attitude in a country where the legal system is mature and independent. But China’s courts don’t really posses either of those qualities, and are likely to end up causing Tesla to lose valuable time and forcing it to pay a hefty settlement in its drive into China.

Bottom line: Tesla’s trademark infringement dispute is likely to delay the company’s drive into China by up to half a year, and cost it tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to settle.

  Doug Young has lived and worked in China for 15 years, much of that as a journalist for Reuters writing about Chinese companies. He currently lives in Shanghai where he teaches financial journalism at Fudan University. He writes daily on his blog, Young´s China Business Blog, commenting on the latest developments at Chinese companies listed in the US, China and Hong Kong. He is also author of a new book about the media in China, The Party Line: How The Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.

July 09, 2014

BioAmber Goes Ballistic

Jim Lane

Word arrived from Minnesota that BioAmber has signed a 210,000 ton per year take-or-pay contract for bio-based succinic acid with Vinmar International.

Explaining why BioAmber (BIOA) stock shot up nearly 17% in today’s trading despite a global equities pullback that affected almost everyone else in industrial biotech.

Under the terms of the 15-year agreement, Vinmar has committed to purchase and BioAmber Sarnia has committed to sell 10,000 tons of succinic acid per year from the 30,000 ton per year capacity plant that is currently under construction in Sarnia, Canada.

Bottom line, BioAmber continues to roll and roll. We looked at a number of the drivers in May, in “Why are all the traffic lights turning green for BioAmber?” There, we noted:

BioAmber is avowedly pursuing a strategy based in careful aggregation of strategic partners that bring investment and offtake as well as financing relationships, while building further applications for their molecules in work with R&D partners that could be expected to translate into commercial partners down the line. Which is to say, starting with an economically and environmentally advantaged molecule and then working in partnership with downstream customers to establish markets for that molecule.

“It’s very different than the conventional biobased fuels strategy, which has been to set mandates to create market certainty, and use that to create a favorable financing environment, and encourage engagement with incumbents.”

Expansion at Plant #2

As part of the new succinic acid master off-take agreement, this second plant will be expanded to an annual capacity of 100,000 tons of bio-BDO and 70,000 tons of bio-succinic acid. Vinmar plans to make a 10% or greater equity investment in the expanded plant and has committed to off-take and BioAmber has committed to sell a minimum of 50,000 tons per year of bio-succinic acid for 15 years following the plant’s start-up date. Vinmar also has the option to secure additional bio-succinic acid tonnage under the take-or-pay contract if BioAmber has not committed the remaining volume at the time the plant’s financing is secured.

Building a plant #3

Vinmar also committed to off-take and BioAmber committed to sell a minimum of 150,000 tons per year from a new, third plant following its financing, construction and commissioning. The plant would be dedicated to bio-succinic acid production and would have an annual capacity of 200,000 tons per year. Vinmar plans to invest at least 10% of the equity in this third plant, which BioAmber expects to start up in late 2020, based on the projected development of the succinic acid market.

Expanding the BDO deal

In a related announcement, BioAmber and Vinmar also broadened the scope of their previously announced 100,000 ton per year 1,4 butanediol (BDO) plant, which the parties currently plan to start up in late 2017. Under that agreement, following the financing, construction and commissioning of the BDO plant, Vinmar has committed to purchase and BioAmber has committed to sell 100% of the BDO produced for 15 years.

More than 100% of capacity sold out

The Vinmar take-or-pay contract, together with the take-or-pay agreement signed in April 2014 with PTTMCC Biochem (a joint venture between Mitsubishi Chemical and PTT of Thailand), guarantees the sale of 50% of Sarnia plant capacity during the first three years of operation and 33% of plant capacity for the following 12 years.

In addition, BioAmber has signed 19 supply and distribution agreements and seven MOUs to date, and the cumulative volume of these contracts exceeds the available capacity for sale in Sarnia. BioAmber has been selling bio-based succinic acid for over four years and to date 38 customers have qualified the company as a succinic acid supplier and purchased product from the existing production facility in France.

Jim Lane is editor and publisher  of Biofuels Digest where this article was originally published. Biofuels Digest is the most widely read  Biofuels daily read by 14,000+ organizations. Subscribe here.

July 08, 2014

RGS Energy: Troubling Inconsistencies

Garvin Jabusch

About three weeks ago, I posted a piece called "RGS Energy, Tempered, Opportunistic Growth," an optimistic bit of coverage on one of our holdings,  (RGSE), that included an 18-month price target of $10.00 per share. Since then, several developments and pieces of information have come to light that have caused us to revise our assessment of the company.

Thursday, July 3, a quiet half-market day, RGS Energy released a statement announcing plans to monetize its previously filed potential shelf offering; "RGS Energy (NASDAQ: RGSE) has entered into a definitive agreement to raise approximately $7.0 million in a private placement financing transaction. Under the terms of the agreement, RGS Energy will issue units consisting of an aggregate of 2,919,351 shares of its Class A common stock and warrants to purchase up to 1,313,708 additional shares of Class A common stock, at a price of $2.40 per unit." This deal has been offered to and accepted by as yet undisclosed buyers at well below RGSE's market price in the $2.90s on July 3. The market reacted unfavorably to this low self-valuation from RGSE, driving the share price down approximately 16 ½ percent in the two market days that have followed the announcement, but even so, the private placement valuation remains below market as of this writing.

It gets more interesting. Not only do participants receive this fire-sale valuation, but also, "[e]ach unit consists of one share of Class A common stock and a warrant to purchase 0.45 shares of Class A common stock at an exercise price of $3.19 per share. The warrants are exercisable beginning six months after issuance and for a period of five years thereafter." So participants are buying already in-the-money shares, and also getting up to 5 ½ more years to watch the company grow, risk free, before deciding whether to buy more shares at $3.19. Frankly, I'm surprised that management thinks little enough of their firm that they felt the need to offer such a cheap price and also such a fantastic sweetener to raise equity capital. Not knowing all the deal details, I may be missing something, but if this was the best valuation RGSE could get for equity, why didn't they use low-interest debt instead? As of last report, the company had zero long-term debt, a perfect position for a cash-flow positive business to fund operations on the cheap with some kind of note offering.

All in then, up to 6,137,936 dilutive RGSE shares may be sold at $2.40 and $3.19 per share, representing up to 13.65 percent dilution to the existing shareholders of the previously outstanding 44.97 million shares. This is in exchange for $6.4 million (net: of the $7mm raise, close to 8.6 percent, or $600,000, is going to fees and expenses) in "operating capital," and "debt repayment," and not necessarily so much for expansion, except a vague statement about proceeds "to support the launch of its residential leasing platform."

When we met with RGSE's CEO Kam Mofid on May 22, 2014, we asked him about the shelf filing that made this transaction a possibility. That day, he told us that a "shelf offering is filed, but it is to be used only opportunistically for tactical expansion." We understand that business needs can change -- even in just a six-week period -- but the terms of the execution of the shelf offering and the uses of capital as represented in the press release don't seem to agree with Mofid's in-person confidence in opportunistic growth via smart use of his war chest. And Mofid represented to us that RGSE has no debt except for a revolving credit line with Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), which in late May he told us they pay off in full every quarter. So in what sense can their press release be accurate about using proceeds to pay down debt? Only in the sense that they will pay off the SVB line -- something they were already doing with cash flow -- with the new capital. On the contrary, now would have been the time to take on debt rather than issue new equity, thus providing the opportunity to grow the firm to the point where they could get a much better valuation for its shares upon exercising the shelf offing in another year or two.

In the end, we can't help but feel that RGSE's newly announced sources and uses of capital conflict with the business approach as articulated to us by the firm's CEO less than two months before.

In the last post, I wrote that RGSE had every chance of hitting $10 per share by the end of 2015. That was based partially on the rapid growth of the solar installation industry, on our confidence in management ability to execute, and also partly on my assessment of RGSE's value relative to the total market capitalization of SolarCity (SCTY). Since that post, SCTY has announced plans for massive vertical integration of PV panel manufacturing of the most technologically advanced panels and at prices competitive with any panels out there. This has changed the fundamental nature of SCTY and renders moot my comparison of two installation-only firms.

Where SCTY has added a high-tech manufacturing firm to its business, RGSE has signed a supply agreement with SolarWorld to source panels for installation. We can't help but notice that it was SolarWorld that persuaded the Commerce Department to levy tariffs on Chinese solar panels imported into the U.S., thus doing more to slow the growth of RGSE's core business than has any other single entity. According to Forbes, SolarWorld has been called "a crazed agent provocateur" and "[a]t a recent dinner in San Francisco, Suntech chief technology officer Stuart Wenham, an Australian, was just as blunt. 'SolarWorld is a pariah…No one wants to deal with them.'" SolarWorld's continuing efforts to undermine the economic competitiveness of solar PV in the United States would seem to fly in the face of RGSE's long-term business interests.

Finally, then, we have to revise our price target. To external appearances, it seems RGSE may not be acting entirely within the best interests of the firm or its existing shareholders. Eschewing presumably cheap debt in favor of expensive, dilutive equity fundraising, and offering a sweetheart deal to get it done, seems to show an internal lack of confidence in the firm's valuation and near-term prospects. Nevertheless, the simple fact that RGSE finds itself in one of America's fastest-growing industries still bodes well for growth, and with the low current valuation, for the possibility of a takeover. We're lowering RGSE from "buy" to a "hold" rating, and lowering our 2015 price target to U.S. $5.00. While we're disappointed with current events, and we don't presently intend to accumulate more shares, we are not planning to immediately exit our position in RGSE, since, as our price target indicates, we do think there's upside potential from the current $2.53.

Disclosure: Green Alpha Advisors presently holds both RGSE and SCTY. 

Garvin Jabusch is cofounder and chief investment officer of Green Alpha ® Advisors, LLC. He is co-manager of the Shelton Green Alpha Fund (NEXTX), of the Green Alpha ® Next Economy Index, and of the Sierra Club Green Alpha Portfolio. He also authors the Sierra Club’s green economics blog, "Green Alpha's Next Economy."

July 06, 2014

June Bloom: Ten Clean Energy Stocks For 2014, Q2 Update

Tom Konrad CFA

After two weak months, June brought a strong recovery to clean energy stocks and the market in general.  The broad market benchmark IWM put on 7.2%, reversing its previous loss for the year to enter the 4th of July holiday up 4.7%.  My clean energy benchmark PBW shot up 8.6%, for year to date gains of 9.9%. Meanwhile my relatively conservative 10 Clean Energy Stocks for 2014 model portfolio rose 3.6%, retaining its lead on the broad market with a 7% gain so far this year, but falling back behind more volatile clean energy stocks. 

Performance details are shown in the chart below, as well as in the individual stock notes which follow.  Note that the chart is click-able for a larger version.  The numbers to the left of the blue diamonds are US$ returns since the last update, those on the red bars are returns so far this year.

10 for 14 Q2

Individual Stock Notes

(Current prices as of July 3rd, 2014.  The "High Target" and "Low Target" represent my December predictions of the ranges within which  these stocks would end the year, barring extraordinary events.)

1. Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure (NYSE:HASI).
12/26/2013 Price: $13.85.     Low Target: $13.  High Target: $16.  Annualized Dividend: $0.88.
Current Price: $14.59.  YTD Total US$ Return: 8.5% 

Sustainable Infrastructure REIT Hannon Armstrong paid a second quarter dividend of $0.22.  I had hoped for a small dividend increase, but given that the company's policy is to pay 100% of core earnings in the form of dividends, I will place more importance on the company's soon-to-be announced second quarter core earnings than on the dividend payment.  I hope to see core earnings on track for the 15% annual increase management has said to expect through the end of 2015.

2. PFB Corporation (TSX:PFB, OTC:PFBOF).
12/26/2013 Price: C$4.85.   Low Target: C$4.  High Target: C$6. 
Annualized Dividend: C$0.24.
Current Price: C$4.83. YTD Total C$ Return: 2.1%.  YTD Total US$ Return: 2.7%

Green building company PFB Corp did not release any news.  The stock's partial reversal of earlier gains may have been the result of weaker numbers in the US housing market.

3. Capstone Infrastructure Corp (TSX:CSE. OTC:MCQPF).
12/26/2013 Price: C$4.05.   Low Target: C$3.  High Target: C$5.  
Annualized Dividend: C$0.30.
Current Price: C$4.35.  YTD Total C$ Return: 28.9% .  YTD Total US$ Return: 29.7%

Independent power producer Capstone Infrastructure announced its regular quarterly dividend of C$0.075, payable to shareholders of record as of July 31st.  After the stocks' recent gains, RBC Capital lowered its rating to "sector perform."  I also think we have seen most of the gains we can expect from Capstone stock this year, but continue to hold my position.  I think the 7.4% current yield remains quite attractive and could lead to additional small capital gains while affording significant downside protection.

4. Primary Energy Recycling Corp (TSX:PRI, OTC:PENGF).
12/26/2013 Price: C$4.93.   Low Target: C$4.  High Target: C$7. 
Annualized Dividend: US$0.28. 
Current Price: C$5.45.  YTD Total C$ Return: 13.2% .  YTD Total US$ Return: 13.9%

Waste heat recovery firm Primary Energy posted significant gains in June after confirming market rumors that it "is engaged in a strategic review process to generate shareholder value," although no agreement has been reached.  The possibility that Primary Energy might be for sale was part of the reason I included the company in the portfolio at the start of the year.

5. Accell Group (Amsterdam:ACCEL, OTC:ACGPF).
 
12/26/2013 Price: €13.59.  Annual Dividend €0.55 Low Target: 11.5.  High Target: €18.
Current Price: €13.90. YTD Total  Return: 6.3% .  YTD Total US$ Return: 7.0% 

Bicycle manufacturer and distributor Accell Group paid its 2013 annual distribution of €0.55.  The dividend is set on an annual basis based on last year's profits.  Since sales have been better so far this year, I expect next year's distribution to be higher.

6. New Flyer Industries (TSX:NFI, OTC:NFYEF).
12/26/2013 Price: C$10.57.  Low Target: C$8.  High Target: C$16. 
Annualized Dividend: C$0.585.
Current Price: C$12.33.  YTD Total C$ Return: 19.0% .  YTD Total US$ Return: 19.7%.

Leading transit bus manufacturer New Flyer announced it would consolidate its transit bus and bus rapid transit models around its Xcelsior platform.  Production of the LFW and BRT models acquired last year with the purchase of rival NABI would be phased out in the second half of 2015.  The Excelsior's BRT styling options would be enhanced by building on NABI's BRT experience.  Cannaccord Genuity reaffirmed its hold rating on New Flyer, but upped its price target to C$11.75 from C$11.50.

7. Ameresco, Inc. (NASD:AMRC).
12/26/2013 Price: $9.64Low Target: $8.  High Target: $16.  No Dividend.
Current Price: $7.19  YTD Total US$ Return: -25.4%.

Ameresco CEO and founder George Sakellaris added another 50,000 shares to his already large stake in the energy performance contracting firm. This and previous insider purchases discussed last month pushed the stock over $7, well above the low of $5.59 seen in early May.

8. Power REIT (NYSE:PW).
12/26/2013 Price: $8.42Low Target: $7.  High Target: $20.  Dividend currently suspended.
Current Price: $9.11 YTD Total US$ Return: 8.2%

Solar and rail real estate investment trust Power REIT paid the first quarterly dividend on its preferred shares (NYSE:PW-PA).

9. MiX Telematics Limited (NASD:MIXT).
12/26/2013 Price: $12.17Low Target: $8.  High Target: $25.
No Dividend.
Current Price: $10.25. YTD Total ZAR Return: -13.7%. YTD Total US$ Return: -17.1%

Investors seemed unimpressed with the full year results of global provider of software as a service fleet and mobile asset management, MiX Telematics at the start of June.  While I found the report in line with the company's business plan and mildly encouraging overall, the stock continued to fall after the announcement. 

Company insiders seemed to share my positive sentiments, and began purchasing the stock on the open market.  MiX CEO Stefan Joselowitz bought the equivalent of 26,000 shares at $9.77 [pdf] while a company director bought the equivalent of 4,844 shares at $9.40-$9.50 [pdf].   This news seems to have reversed the stock's decline, and MIXT ended the month up by 1.6%.

I also added to my positions  in the $9 range during the month.

10. Alterra Power Corp. (TSX:AXY, OTC:MGMXF).
12/26/2013 Price: C$0.28. Low Target: C$0.20.  High Target: C$0.60. No Dividend.
Current Price: C$0.34   YTD Total C$ Return: 21.4% .  YTD Total US$ Return: 22.2%.

The stock of renewable energy developer and operator Alterra Power gained over 12% in June, but without significant news.

Two Speculative Clean Energy Penny Stocks for 2014

Ram Power Corp (TSX:RPG, OTC:RAMPF)
12/26/2013 Price: C$0.08.  Low Target: C$0.00.  High Target: C$0.22. No Dividend.
Current Price: C$0.03   YTD Total C$ Return: -62.5% .  YTD Total US$ Return: -62.3%
Terminal US$ Return -57% (when I said to sell on June 3rd.)

So far, the decision to sell geothermal power developer Ram Power last month seems to have been a good one.  I am no longer following the stock.

Finavera Wind Energy (TSX-V:FVR, OTC:FNVRF). 
12/26/2013 Price: C$0.075.  Low Target: C$0.00.  High Target: C$0.22. No Dividend.
Current Price: C$0.10   YTD Total C$ Return: 33.3% .  YTD Total US$ Return: 34.2%.

Wind project developer Finavera gained on the issuance of an Environmental Assessment Certificate to the Meikle Wind project recently sold to Pattern Energy Group (NASD:PEGI.)  This brings Finavera one step closer to receiving the approximately $19 million which will be due from Pattern upon the arrangement of project financing. 

Nevertheless, the stock remains in the doldrums due to lack of promised announcements regarding Finavera's future renewable energy development ventures.  The press release included some familiar boilerplate "With proceeds from the sale, Finavera plans to aggressively reduce short and long term debt and focus on another fast growing area of renewable energy development.  Finavera is working on transactions to put forward for shareholder approval at our AGM," but the lack of detail is clearly frustrating to shareholders.

Final Thoughts: The Yieldco Boom

Valuations of alternative energy "Yeildcos" such as NRG Yield (NYSE:NYLD) and the recently launched Abengoa Yield (NASD:ABY) have risen rapidly in recent months, to the point where there is little more yield in many "Yieldcos" than in traditional utility stocks.  (NYLD and ABY currently pay 2.7% and 2.8% on an annual basis.)

These and other Yieldcos are creating a large pool of low cost capital available to finance alternative energy infrastructure.  Demand remains strong: NextEra Energy Partners (NYSE:NEP) rose 38% to $34.61 in the first day of trading on July 3rd.  At the initial dividend rate of $0.75 annually, the yield is only 2.2%, below even the parent company NextEra Energy's (NYSE:NEE) 2.9% yield.

The Yeildcos themselves may have trouble advancing from their current lofty valuations, but the low cost capital they bring is likely to raise the price and of existing alternative energy infrastructure, and make new alternative energy projects easier to finance.  While the Yieldcos' parent companies are the most obvious beneficiaries, all current owners, developers, and suppliers to renewable energy projects are likely to feel its effects.  In this list, those include Hannon Armstrong, Capstone Infrastructure, Primary Energy, Ameresco, and Alterra. 

It's entirely possible that Primary Energy's "strategic negotiations," discussed above, are with the sponsor of a current or future Yieldco.  At Yeildco prices, the stock would be worth US $7 or C$7.46 a share (based on a 4% yield and the current annual dividend of $0.28.)

Disclosure: Long HASI, PFB, CSE, ACCEL, NFI, PRI, AMRC, MIXT, PW, AXY, FVR, PEGI.  Short NYLD Calls.

DISCLAIMER: Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results.  This article contains the current opinions of the author and such opinions are subject to change without notice.  This article has been distributed for informational purposes only. Forecasts, estimates, and certain information contained herein should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product.  Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed.

July 05, 2014

A Deal A Day At Renewable Energy Group

They are hoopin’ it up in Ames, Iowa these days.  Local producer Renewable Energy Group (REGI:  Nasdaq) completed the acquisition of Dynamic Fuels, Inc., one of the first renewable diesel biorefineries in the country.  The Dynamic Fuels facility located in Geismar, Louisiana has 75 million gallon annual nameplate production capacity. Renewable Energy Group (REG) already had eight other fully operational biorefineries with a nameplate production capacity near 250 million gallons per year.  REG also has a demonstration plant in Oklahoma for renewable chemicals.

It was a two-part deal.  First REG struck a deal with for most of the assets of Syntroleum Corporation for 3.5 million shares of REGI common stock.  The deal included a 50% ownership interest in Dynamic Fuels.  Shortly after the Syntroleum acquisition in early June 2014, REG paid $18 million in cash to Tyson Foods for the remaining 50% interest.  Tyson may also be paid up to $35 million over the next decade depending upon production volume.  REG will also repay Tyson for $12 million in debt owed by Dynamic Fuels.

REG is not only on the prowl for production capacity.  The company has used the acquisition strategy to build out its technology portfolio.  Earlier this year REG paid $40 million in cash and stock for LS9, Inc., a developer of renewable industrial chemicals.  REG may pay an additional $21.5 million over the next five years if certain milestones are reached.  LS9’s technology relies on the fatty acid metabolic pathway of microorganisms, which are used to transform a variety of feedstocks into detergents and other renewable chemicals.  Included among those feedstocks is glycerol, which is a by-product of REG’s biodiesel production processes, making for very nice synergy between the two companies.

Investors responded warmly to the LS9 acquisition, driving REGI shares from a price near $9.75 in early February 2014 to just over $12.50 in early May.  Unfortunately, mixed signals from the first quarter 2014 financial results reported in early May, were fodder for some disappointment and the stock began a slide back down to the $10 price level.  Perhaps investors also began anticipating potential dilution from  the company’s $125 million convertible note deal that was completed in late May 2014.  The Dynamic Fuels to near a key line of resistance near the $11.50 price level.

The question for investors is whether the stock has sufficient momentum to break through and remain above the resistance line.  Based on the Average Directional Index, a trend indicator, the stock is indeed trending higher and the signal is  relatively strong.  Let me also note that the Moving Average Directional Index is quite favorable and is currently signaling higher prices ahead.

What is less clear for REGI is an absolute value for the stock.  Technical indicators are silent on just how far the stock might go.  From a fundamental standpoint, it is not very difficult to come up the raw data for an earnings forecast.  The consensus estimate for the year 2015, is for $0.82 per share on $1.13 billion in sales.  At a multiple of 20 times earnings, a price of $16.40 seems justified, given the company’s improved competitive position.  Only one of the analysts has a price target of $16.00 while the mean price target is $13.67.

It seems prudent to accumulate shares of Renewable Energy Group at price levels below $11.50.  For those with long positions at lower prices levels, that will ensure a profit in the long-term.  The stock closed out trading last week with a strong volume and the engulfing pattern that formed at the week-end suggests the climber higher will continue in the new week.  However, given the volatility in REGI shares, it seems more likely than not the the stock will again present a strong buying opportunities from investors.

Debra Fiakas is the Managing Director of
Crystal Equity Research, an alternative research resource on small capitalization companies in selected industries.

Neither the author of the Small Cap Strategist web log, Crystal Equity Research nor its affiliates have a beneficial interest in the companies mentioned herein.

July 04, 2014

Will Tesla's Next Car Cost you $25,000?

By Jeff Siegel

While I've long been an outspoken supporter of Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA), as well as a huge fan of both Elon Musk and the Model S, it is the company's smaller version of the Model S that gets me most excited.

The bottom line is that cost will be the determining factor for most Americans considering electric cars. After all, you'd be hard-pressed to find many folks who wouldn't love to own a Model S. But at around $75,000, few can afford it.

Of course, the vision of Tesla is not one based solely around supplying high-end vehicles to high-net worth individuals. Although the Roadster, Model S and Model X are out-of-reach for most, it could be Tesla's smaller, yet more affordable electric sedan that will bring in the masses. Not just to look and crave, but to buy.

An Affordable Tesla

According to Tesla VP of engineering Chris Porritt, Tesla's new, smaller sedan will be “realistically” priced against the likes of Audi A4 and BMW 3-series. So we're talking about $35,000 on the low-end.

35,000 is still a lot of scratch to pony up for a vehicle, but over the course of seven years (the average length of car ownership for a single vehicle in the U.S.), customers could end up saving about $15,000 on “fuel” costs (based on data from the Michigan Transportation Research Insitute), as home-grown electricity will always be cheaper than 87 octane. Of course, those savings will vary from state to state.

But even if customers only saved $10,000 on fuel costs over the course of seven years, that's a pretty significant savings that ultimately deducts one-third off the cost of the vehicle. A smaller, Tesla Model S for $25,000? Yes please!

 signature

Jeff Siegel is Editor of Energy and Capital, where this article was first published.

July 03, 2014

Chinese Remain Skeptical of Domestic EVs

Doug Young

Chinese local media were trying to accentuate the positive when they reported that China’s new energy vehicle sales rose 10-fold in the first 4 months of this year. (Chinese article) That figure caught my attention, but then I read further into the reports and saw that even after the huge jump just 10,000 new energy vehicles were sold in China in January through April, averaging a meager 2,500 per month.

Adding further gloom to the picture, the vast majority of vehicles were purchased by fleet operators of taxis and buses. Within the larger figure, half of all sales were for buses, while another 40 percent were for taxis. Only 1,000 vehicles sold in the first 4 months were for consumer-use plug-in electric models. That doesn’t bode well for the mass consumer market, which will need to improve significantly for China to meet its ambitious goals for new energy vehicle sales.

The electric vehicle (EV) market has received some good news in the last few months, mostly from US hotshot Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA), which has energized the sector with several sharp publicity campaigns and other new initiatives to popularize its technology. (previous post) But Tesla’s cars are squarely aimed at the very high end of the market, and its initiatives are unlikely to boost the broader market where mainstream consumers are still highly skeptical of the technology. These latest figures show the industry isn’t going anywhere quickly in China, and it could still be years before the market finally starts to take off.

Bottom line: New energy vehicle sales figures for the first four months of 2014 show electric cars continue to struggle to find an audience.

Doug Young has lived and worked in China for 15 years, much of that as a journalist for Reuters writing about Chinese companies. He currently lives in Shanghai where he teaches financial journalism at Fudan University. He writes daily on his blog, Young´s China Business Blog, commenting on the latest developments at Chinese companies listed in the US, China and Hong Kong. He is also author of a new book about the media in China, The Party Line: How The Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.

July 02, 2014

The Bull Market For Alternative Energy Funds Continues

By Harris Roen

Robust Alternative Energy Mutual Fund Returns

MF_returns_20140630[1].jpg

Alternative energy mutual funds remain a strong investment sector, showing extremely robust returns in June. On average, MFs gained 28.1% for the year, and every fund posted double digit returns. Also without exception, all funds are up for the past three months.

More importantly, long-term returns for alternative energy mutual funds have greatly improved in the past year. In June 2013, the average three-year return was 3.0%, with three out of 10 funds showing losses.

Green ETFs Increase Gains

ETF_returns_20140630[1].jpg
Green ETFs have significantly increased their gains since May, up 37.6% on average for the year. This is substantial improvement compared to the 25.7% average annual gain a month ago.

There is only one fund showing a loss for the year, Market Vectors Rare Earth/Strategic Metals (REMX). Otherwise all ETs have returned near 20% or better for the year. The two solar ETFs, Guggenheim Solar (TAN) and Market Vectors Solar Energy ETF (KWT) show the greatest gains by far.


DISCLOSURE

Individuals involved with the Roen Financial Report and Swiftwood Press LLC do not own or control shares of any companies mentioned in this article. It is also possible that individuals may own or control shares of one or more of the underlying securities contained in the Mutual Funds or Exchange Traded Funds mentioned in this article. Any advice and/or recommendations made in this article are of a general nature and are not to be considered specific investment advice. Individuals should seek advice from their investment professional before making any important financial decisions. See Terms of Use for more information.

About the author

Harris Roen is Editor of the “ROEN FINANCIAL REPORT” by Swiftwood Press LLC, 82 Church Street, Suite 303, Burlington, VT 05401. © Copyright 2010 Swiftwood Press LLC. All rights reserved; reprinting by permission only. For reprints please contact us at cservice@swiftwood.com. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Roen Financial Report, 82 Church Street, Suite 303, Burlington, VT 05401. Application to Mail at Periodicals Postage Prices is Pending at Burlington VT and additional Mailing offices.
Remember to always consult with your investment professional before making important financial decisions.

July 01, 2014

Chinese Commercial Solar Group Formed To Tackle Trade Wars

by Doug Young

Chinese solar panel makers have taken an important step to solving their ongoing trade spat with the west by formally launching a private sector trade association to speak on their behalf. The move gives the panel makers their first truly commercial representative to discuss the matter with peers in the US and Europe, providing a better alternative to the government-backed groups that previously spoke for them.

This kind of step is long overdue, and should help to de-politicize and hopefully solve what is largely a commercial matter, involving western claims of unfair state subsidies. China should encourage and support the formation of more such independent industry associations led and run by actual companies as an important tool to reduce broader frictions with its major trading partners.

China’s solar panel sector has been locked in a dispute with the west for much of the last 3 years, following a prolonged industry downturn that has led to numerous bankruptcies worldwide. The west argued that China helped to create the huge oversupply that sparked the downturn by giving unfair subsidies to homegrown companies through policies like tax breaks and low-interest loans.

Amid the turmoil, the US last year imposed punitive tariffs against Chinese panels and is now on the verge of implementing a second round of penalties to close a loophole in the earlier ruling. The European Union also threatened to impose its own tariffs, but reached a last-minute settlement last year after negotiating an agreement with a group representing the Chinese panel makers.

Now that settlement is also in danger of unraveling, following recent allegations by European panel makers that the Chinese firms are not honoring the agreement.
In the EU case, the Chinese panel makers were represented in negotiations by the Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products, a government-backed industry group. Such government-backed groups have traditionally been the main spokesmen for various Chinese industries, mostly for historical reasons. But due to their government connections, they often carry strong political overtones that sometimes hinder realistic, commercially-based discussions.

In a bid to break that cycle, the solar panel makers recently formed their own industry association, the China Photovoltaic Industry Association (CPIA). Last week the group elected the CEO of Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL), one of the industry’s largest players, to become its first president for the next 5 years. (company announcement)

The CPIA’s includes most of the sector’s major manufactures, such as Trina, Yingli (NYSE: YGE), Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ) and JA Solar (Nasdaq: JASO), meaning it can truly represent the entire industry when dealing with issues like the current trade wars. Equally important, the group has also committed to maintaining close ties with the Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products, ensuring that Beijing will remain informed on all the latest developments in industry issues.

This kind of independent trade group formed and run by actual companies is quite common in the west, where governments realizes that such independent associations can best represent the interests of their individual members.

In a bid to solve the clash in the US, the locally based Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) offered up a plan last year suggesting the Chinese manufacturers set up a fund that could help to compensate US rivals for some of their losses due to unequal state support. (previous post) The SEIA is one of several private groups representing the sector in the US, and its plan has yet to gain any traction, at least not publicly.

But the group’s proposal shows that private industry organizations can often propose innovative plans that are better suited to solving trade disputes than those offered by governments that are less familiar with individual issues. By comparison, China’s deal with the EU deal resulted in a plan for Chinese companies to voluntarily raise their prices to be on par with European rivals. The EU plan’s current troubles hint that the Chinese manufacturers were never fully committed to the proposal, perhaps because of their limited participation in the negotiations.

The formation of the CPIA could provide some fresh new impetus to solve the current disputes, since the Chinese panel makers now have their own group that can directly speak on their behalf. The creation of more such groups could help to reduce China’s trade frictions with the west in other areas by providing creative solutions crafted by companies themselves, which are always the biggest losers when such disputes result in unilateral punitive actions.

Bottom line: A new private solar industry association could bring fresh impetus to solving an ongoing trade dispute between China and the west over state subsidies.

Doug Young has lived and worked in China for 15 years, much of that as a journalist for Reuters writing about Chinese companies. He currently lives in Shanghai where he teaches financial journalism at Fudan University. He writes daily on his blog, Young´s China Business Blog, commenting on the latest developments at Chinese companies listed in the US, China and Hong Kong. He is also author of a new book about the media in China, The Party Line: How The Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.


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