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Last week, electric car maker Tesla Motors made history as the first automotive company to go public since Ford in the 1950s, but its share price continues to drop, down another 9.24 percent so far today. Despite its buzz and sex appeal, it looks like the company won’t be able to escape the fate of other green stocks, which continue to perform miserably.
Nick Hodge of Green Chip Stocks has taken a deep dive into exactly how bad the situation is — and it’s pretty bad with solar and clean energy stocks spearheading the decline. In the last 24 months, green equities have lost as much as 72 percent, making prospective investors very nervous about future sales.
We’ve seen this trend in several green IPOs already this year. Tesla and its 40.5 percent first-day jump in price are a big-time exception to the rule. More representative picks include Codexis, the biofuel catalyst company that went public in April for $78 million instead of its expected $100 million. Chinese solar wafer maker Jinko Solar also had a hard time in May, with shares opening at $11, the low end of its estimated range.
Capital-intensive green companies are largely dependent on raising money from their IPOs to keep things going. So raising smaller-than-average sums could seriously threaten their productivity and survival.
Combined with unfavorable market conditions, this risk turned back the IPO dreams of solar module maker Solyndra, even though it has $535 million in government loans at its disposal. The company opted to raise $178 million in private capital instead before taking another, hopefully more auspicious run at the public market.
This lukewarm attitude toward the green sector can be attributed, at least partially, to the disappointing performance of battery maker A123Systems since its public offering last September. The company’s stock spiked 50 percent on its first day from its $13.50 pricing to $20.29. Today, it’s trailing at $8.63 a share, justifiably giving green investors the jitters.
This is also having an impact on cleantech companies before they even start considering an IPO. As Hodge points out, less potential for lucrative exits means less venture capital firms pumping money into startups, regardless of how promising their technology may be. The fact that renewable energy stocks are limping threatens to lock up the whole development chain.
The problem has prompted bankers and venture capitalists alike to adjust their approach. Basically, venture-backed wind and solar companies can’t generate cost competitive energy yet, they require many years before producing returns, and they require massive amounts of capital to even get them to that point. Investors aren’t so enthusiastic. Their replacements: less pricey energy efficiency and smart grid plays with business models that save people money.
Hodge reports that Bank of America is buying into this strategy, predicting that investment in energy efficiency could rise as high as $216 billion in the next two years. If efficiency initiatives and grid upgrades can reduce energy consumption by 23 percent by 2020, as predicted, then not as much emphasis needs to be placed on renewable generation.
The new approach may be bad news for companies like Solyndra and turbine farm developer First Wind (which filed in 2008 to raise $450 million), but very good news for the smart grid companies on deck — namely, Silver Spring Networks.
The Redwood City, Calif. company, which provides wireless networks for smart metering systems, retained underwriters in preparation for an IPO in February. But it backed off after it got embroiled in a class action lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric (one of its major customers) over rate hikes associated with smart meters.
There’s been some talk of Cisco Systems buying the company, which has raised north of $200 million in capital. However, if investor sentiment shifts to favor smart gird plays, it could get its day in the sun before the end of 2010 after all.
One of the higher-profile sales in the hopper right now is Zipcar’s. The green car-sharing service filed for a $75 million IPO at the beginning of June. Right now it looks like it could defy market trends in the sector. Like Tesla, it has a glowing, sexy public image — and it seems different enough from standard solar, wind and biofuel companies to soothe fretting buyers.
But there’s still no telling how its stock will fare after an early pop in price. If Tesla’s current trajectory is any hint, future Zipcar shareholders shouldn’t get their hopes up.
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