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Tuesday, 04/22/2008 3:36:41 PM

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 3:36:41 PM

Post# of 41
Solar Stocks: Nine That Will Shine in a Bull Market
by: Rick Shea
posted on: April 21, 2008

As the market rebounds, investors continue to reward the large cap growth leaders, and alternative energy led by solar has been one of the prime beneficiaries. The need for alternative energy continues to be a main focus for all governments as oil continues it's climb to over $110 a barrel. Solar stocks are getting the most headlines because they are farther along the commercialization continuum and they are more prevalent than their wind and alternative fuel counterparts.

Any discussion about solar companies must start with First Solar (FSLR). Clearly, the leader in the sector according to Wall Street based on its thin film technology, First Solar's stock price has resumed its climb to near record levels as investors await its Q1 earnings report.

Suntech (STP) and SunPower (SPWR) are the next two leading players based on market cap, but they primarily use silicon-based technology for their products. SunPower just released strong first quarter 2008 numbers but some analysts had some concerns about slowing sales growth for the next quarter based on a single comment during its conference call.

Additional players include LDK Solar (LDK), Trina Solar (TSL), Evergreen Solar (ESLR) and Canadian Solar (CSIQ).

There are two main questions when investing in solar stocks:

First, which technology (thin film vs. silicon) is likely to offer the best long term business model for cost and efficiency. Again, based on market cap and relative performance the market is betting that customers will prefer thin film technology led by First Solar. While I tend to agree I am certain that the market will be large enough for both technology forms to compete and provide strong sales and profits.

Second, which stocks offer the best values and are likely to maintain the growth rates that investors need to drive higher market capitalizations.

The following chart analyzes the top players with the key growth rates and relative value.

You can see that Wall Street believes that First Solar will prevail based on a market cap that is three times the next largest competitor. You can also see its stock is priced for perfection. First Solar has a history of trouncing estimates and will likely do so again this quarter.

SWPR and STP are the next largest competitors with STP actually showing the largest sales estimate for Q1 2008. Both are well-positioned to lead the silicon based technology and sport reasonable valuations with forward P/E's of 27 and 18 respectively. Their PEG's (price to earnings growth) is actually very attractive and lower than most slower growing companies.

Both Canadian Solar (CSIQ) a Chinese company and LDK are interesting plays. Both are showing strong growth with below average valuations. LDK's PEG is ridiculously low vs. the other solar companies and vs. the overall market. So what's this all mean for the average investor looking to buy alternative energy and solar stocks. I believe FSLR will deliver on Q1 earnings and lead the group to new highs.

I will continue to maintain my long positions in FSLR, SPWR and STP until their valuations get too high. At that point it may be worthwhile to switch into some of the smaller names particularly LDK and CSIQ. The leaders will lead the sector up until valuations get out of hand and then others will play catch up shortly after.

FYI: I also like Cree Inc. (CREE) and Zoltek Companies Inc. (ZOLT) as additional long-term plays in the alternative energy sector.

Disclosure: The author is long FSLR, STP & SPWR.

invest at your own risk, based on your own due diligence, at your own risk tolerance

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