Prospects for Renewable Energy Stocks Brighten
Clean energy momentum has been building for more than a decade, but now it’s really set to accelerate.
President-elect Joe Biden faces a divided Congress, yet on Friday Politico reported that he will have as much as $40 billion to pump up interest in renewable power and battery technologies.
It should be the impetus for the next wave of clean energy investing.
To be clear, the sector has been on a winning streak. From NextEra Energy, Inc. (NYSE: NEE), the biggest renewable power utility company in the United States, to Tesla, Inc. (Nasdaq: TSLA), green stocks have had the attention of investors during 2020.
A wave of socially conscious investing swelled into a tsunami during the pandemic.
Environmental, social and corporate governance investing, also known as ESG, shifts the focus from shareholders to stakeholders. The big idea is that while profits are good for shareholders, corporate policies that benefit stakeholders — employees, customers, suppliers and the environment — are preferable.
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According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, investors put a record $27.4 billion into ESG exchange traded funds in 2020, effectively doubling the size of the sector. Now, a new political regime in Washington is about to up the ante.
Biden put economic recovery and climate change at the top of his political agenda. He even promised to spend $2 trillion to make it all happen. Senate Republicans will probably not allow all of the spending, but even that may not upset the narrative.
The Politico story claims a Biden administration may even kickstart its environmental agenda with money left over from the 2009 stimulus program. The Department of Energy has $40 billion in unused loan authority. Some minor tweaking would see the DOE set up as a lending facility for battery installation and other green initiatives to drive economic growth.
That’s clearly the objective of Jennifer Granholm, President-elect Biden’s pick to run the DOE. Granholm was the governor of Michigan and worked with the Obama administration in 2009 on the auto industry bailout, including a program that helped build batteries for the Chevy Volt.
It’s one thing to be shifting your business to benefit from these bullish forces. It’s another to already be positioned for huge profits.
That’s what make certain picks like Generac Holdings Inc. (NYSE: GNRC) stand out.
The firm makes machines that store power. Its legacy business began building gas-powered generators way back in 1959. In 2019, the Waukesha, Wisc.-based company shifted gears with the prescient acquisitions of Pika Energy and Neurio Technology. The deals allowed Generac to become a power-storage appliance-company.
Fancy nomenclature aside, the goal was to disrupt the $4 trillion electric utility business by giving consumers a battery storage appliance to manage clean, renewable energy collected from rooftop solar panels.
CEO Aaron Jagdfeld told analysts in October that Generac’s PWRcell Energy Storage business has grown 3 times faster than projected, a trend that is certain to accelerate if the DoE gets involved with special purpose loans.
Another strong pick on the other end of the clean-energy business-spectrum is First Solar, Inc. (Nasdaq: FSLR). The Tempe, Ariz.-based company used to be a vertically integrated solar business servicing the utilities sector. It designed, manufactured, sold and serviced panels suitable for large utility customers like Next Era.
Today, the business is focused only on manufacturing state-of-the-art thin film solar panels.
The transition began in 2019 as managers correctly anticipated widening demand from utilities companies. Currently, First Solar is contracted to manufacture systems representing 12.2 Gigawatts of capacity, with 8.3 GW in the pipeline, according to the most recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
This represents a backlog of about three years given current manufacturing capacity. And with $1.4 billion cash on hand, the company is in a good position to add new capacity as more customers come online.
First Solar logged sales of $3 billion in 2019, up 36.4% from a year ago.
It’s rare for Washington policy changes to set the agenda for investors. Plans to remake the DOE with clean energy loans and incentives should accelerate demand. It will certainly help with the investment narrative. And don’t forget the ESG tailwind.
Generac and First Solar were strong performers in 2020, rallying 126% and 76%, respectively. At 3 times sales for First Solar and 6 times sales for Generac, investors are clearly optimistic about future growth.
Given the changing politics in Washington, it’s a good bet. Investors should consider using any future weakness in the shares to buy.
Jon D. Markman