Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Bottom in Solar Shares

Today the long awaited preliminary results of the US Commerce Department's investigation into unfair trade practices by Chinese solar companies were released. While the Commerce Department's investigation hasn't yet concluded, and a decision on the charges of dumping by Chinese solar companies hasn't been made yet, they said today that "countervailable subsidies are financial assistance from foreign governments that benefit the production of goods from foreign companies." You'd think this is a good thing for US solar companies, after all this should boost their margins as they see higher module prices in the US. You might think the beaten down, and heavily shorted, shares of FSLR and SPWR would squeeze on this sort of news. But in fact, just the opposite happened. Shares in Chinese solar companies (eg. STP, JASO, YGE) surged 10-20% on the news today while FSLR languished in the red and SPWR sold off 7.5%. Wall Street was clearly looking for larger tariffs on Chinese modules with one analyst claiming that the 3-5% tariffs are too small to be meanginful. I don't claim to know enough about the economics of solar to know whether 3-5% tarifs will be meaningful fundamentally, but psychologically this feels like a meaningful event. If this means that module prices will rise in the US, then great, anything that can stop the death spiral in solar panel prices is welcome. If US producers see higher contract prices going forward, then that will mean analysts will have to revise their earnings estimates higher, also good. Naysayers will say that this will dampen the US solar growth, but much to the surprise of those who follow the stock prices of US solar companies, the US solar market doubled last year. I find it hard to beleive that a 3-5% tarif on modules from China will significantly dampen growth. I could go on an on about how bullish I am on solar for the long run, but finally things seem to be starting to improve on the shorter term.

Despite the weakness in US solar shares, the solar etf TAN managed a gain today on more than triple the three month average volume. I see this as a sign that the tariff news is seen by the market, on the whole, as good for the solar industry. We can speculate as to why investors are buying or covering, but the price and volume action is how the market speaks. Should the strength continue, solar will have carved out a very solid looking inverse head and shoulders bottom. If the bears want to push their solar shorts further, they'll need to quickly reverse today's action. More later...
Disclosure: I am long FSLR, SPWR and JASO.

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