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Market not keen on green energy stocks

This article originally appeared in the Estes Park Trail-Gazette.  Author Jon Nicholas discussed it in more detail on The Amy Oliver Show on News Talk 1310 KFKA.

Vestas, Green Energy Sold Short

By Jon Nicholas

Colorado has become a leader in government subsidizing green jobs.  A major beneficiary of those state and local subsidies has been a Danish company, Vestas Wind Systems A/S.  Vestas operates four manufacturing facilities in Colorado in Windsor, Brighton and Pueblo.

Democrats accuse Republicans of selling green energy short.  Turns out they might be right.  As of December 26, short sales of Vestas stock reached 17.6% of outstanding shares.  In a short sale, an investor borrows stock, sells it, and then hopes to buy the stock later at a lower price.  Short-sellers have no theoretical limit on their losses.  That unlimited risk means that short sellers must be highly certain in their pessimism.

On Thursday, Vestas announced a major sale to Brazil, but the order still left Vestas short of earlier 2011 sales estimates.  Vestas still has until Saturday to reach its annual estimate, but the shorts appear skeptical.  Earlier this month, Vestas testified in the U.S. Senate in favor of extending a U.S. Production Tax Credit beyond the end of 2012.  Wind energy benefits from a 2.1 cent per kilowatt-hour tax credit.   Vestas claims that if the tax credit expires, 80,000 U.S. jobs are at risk, including thousands in Colorado.

Some investors doubt the value of other green energy stocks as well.  The solar panel company Solyndra has received lots of press attention.  The Department of Energy provided the company massive loans despite the likelihood of a business failure.  Political considerations apparently trumped common sense.  Solyndra is just the tip of the melting iceberg.

Vestas doesn’t even make the top fifty stocks in terms of short interest as a percentage of the total stock float.  Consider some of the other stocks subjected to short interest.  Number two on the list is Tesla Motors, Inc.  As of Tuesday, short interest in the stock was 52.1%.  Tesla plans to release its Tesla Model S Sedan in the summer of 2012 at a net base price of $49,900—after deducting a $7,500 federal tax credit.

A stock analyst recently reduced estimates of the global market for electric cars.  By 2025, the analyst expects electric cars to be just 4.5% of the global car market, instead of 8.6%.  That has huge implications for Tesla, as well as the whole notion of government subsidies re-inventing the auto market.  The Department of Energy extended $465 million in loans to Tesla as part of the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program.  Every car sold will also benefit from that federal tax credit.

Lithium battery maker Ener1 was one of thirty electric car battery makers to receive a DOE grant.  In 2009, Ener1 was scheduled to receive $118.5 million in stimulus money, but only receive about half.  In January, Vice-President Biden visited an Ener1 plant in Indiana to highlight the administration’s commitment to electric cars.  Indiana Republicans shared the Obama Administration’s commitment, and the company had received over $10 million in DOE and Defense Department research grants during the Bush Administration.  In October, NASDAQ de-listed the stock.  A Bloomberg stock analyst believes Japan and South Korea will dominate the electric car battery market.  That’s bad news for taxpayers.

Number 18 on the list of short interests on Tuesday was First Solar, Inc., with 35% of its outstanding shares shorted.  First Solar is approaching its all-time low and still hasn’t cleared out the short sellers.  GreenStocksCentral.com reported in Mid-December that the company is in “serious disarray” after being a “darling” among green energy stocks.

First Solar now plans to flee the U.S. market for other countries that do not depend on subsidies.  Selling stocks short is risky business.  First Solar concluded that depending upon government subsidies for success is a far greater risk.

None of the above should be construed as investment advice.