Monday, July 14, 2008

Catch the Wind

Catch the Wind

Green Investor at

By Paulo Nery

Wind is looking like one the great opportunities for this year. If you follow Jim Cramer at all you may have heard him declare this to be the year of wind. And just this past week that well-known oilman T. Boone Pickens, who is building an enormous 4,000 Megawatt wind farm in Pampa Texas, declared a major PR campaign for wind. The “Pickens Plan” ( calls for rapid ramping up of wind power and advocates the use of natural gas vehicles. Pickens views wind as part of a solution to our rapidly increasing expenditure on foreign oil. Currently $700 Billion is going offshore each year to pay for imported oil.

Wind energy according to the Department of Energy, has the potential to deliver 1.5 times our current national consumption. And that would come from just 6% of US land. Most of the strong potential is in a corridor from West Texas all the way to North Dakota.

If you’ve wanted to invest in renewable energy, wind could be the right play for you, with growing public awareness creating demand and political pressure. But, what kind of plays are out there?

A direct play might be a company like Vestas Wind Systems (VWDRY.PK), a Danish company that manufactures wind systems. They have 35,000 turbines installed worldwide and claim a 23% market share making them the world leader in the supply of wind energy solutions. According to their own life-cycle analysis, the production from one of its 3-Megawatt turbines totally offsets the energy consumed by its production in under 7 months. So it’s a great green story and there’s nothing like investing with the market leader. However, it trades mainly in Denmark. If you want to buy it in the USA, the over-the-counter listing is quite thinly traded.

A number of the companies involved in supplying components are industrials with broader businesses. In several cases, the wind energy divisions are far outpacing the parent company for growth.

One such example is Trinity (TRN) who is known as a manufacturer of railcars. They also have a division that makes wind towers, the structures that hold up the turbine and blades. That business is clearly taking off. For their last quarter, they reported 81 cents per share of earnings which beat the consensus by 8 cents. The stock marched quickly from 32 to over 40, but has since come back down with the rest of the market and due in part to another railcar maker, Greenbrier Companies Inc. (GBX), who warned of poor railcar sales and rising material costs.

Trinity’s wind energy equipment business looks strong with a 42% increase in revenue from its last quarter ending March 31. It’s also showing a backlog of $1.6 billion in orders. On the other hand, if you extrapolate from Greenbrier, the railcar business could come under pressure. Is the broader industry strength in rails enough to carry it through? Or, will high steel and raw costs plus customer problems leading to reduced orders weigh it down? Either way, over the long term, its wind energy structures business is increasing. Currently its $390 million is 12% of the total company revenues, and 10% of profits. The company projects $800 million revenues for the wind business in five years. But even this may be very conservative if the Pickens plan has any influence on the growth of wind energy as a whole.

Another intriguing wind play is AeroVironment, Inc. (AVAV) who are known for their portfolio of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that it supplies primarily to organizations within the United States Department of Defense (DoD). But why I really like it is what the company calls “architectural wind”. They manufacture attractive wind turbines designed to perch on the edge of a roof and complement a building's architecture. This could be a new direction for wind energy though it is early days for this product line - there are only 9 installations in place as of yet. AeroVironment is a strong looking company as its main business should continue to thrive with ongoing military demand. As a wind investment it might be more speculative since there’s little real information to go on at this stage, but it sure sounds like a business that could find traction in a world that increasingly values green building.

There are many other strong wind plays available, like:

Ottertail (OTTR) a utility company that also makes towers
Gamesa Corp (GCTAF.PK) a Spanish turbine maker with 18% of the market
Americas Wind Energy Corporation (AWNE.OB) medium sized wind turbines
Scottish Power Plc (SPI) a major developer and operator of wind farms in the UK and the US
While the Pickens campaign is undoubtedly raising awareness of wind energy and its potential, it might be prudent to avoid being drawn into the hype too quickly. Careful research and timing of your entry are essential, as ever.

Paulo Nery is an independent columnist for Green Investor at .Paulo J. Nery writes about green business, green investing and green lifestyle. InvestorIdeas is not affiliated or compensated by the companies mentioned in this article.

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