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Real Goods Solar Gets Chilly Reception

And it isn't getting off to a great start this year, profit-wise. In its most recent prospectus, Real Goods Solar said, "During the quarter ended March 31, 2008, we preliminarily estimate our net revenue to be approximately $6.5 million and our net loss to be between $300,000 and $350,000."

Investors might also recall Real Goods from its last appearance in the public markets -- especially those familiar with the Nasdaq bulletin board stocks in the late 1990s. That's was the stomping grounds for Real Goods Trading Co., where it went from a high of $6 in early 1999 to $3.25 in late 2000.

In October 2000, Gaiam (GAIA) agreed to buy Real Goods Trading Co. for $8.7 million. Shareholders of RGTC stock got one Gaiam share for every 10 of their own (Gaiam's stock was worth about $16 a share at the time), plus a gift certificate worth up to $100 of Gaiam's "green living" products.

Under Gaiam, Real Goods grew through acquisitions, borrowing $20 million from its parent, which the proceeds of this IPO will help to repay. Gaiam's stake in Real Goods is currently worth about $79.3 million, or more than nine times the value of Real Goods Trading when Gaiam bought it seven years ago.

So Gaiam is the big winner in Real Goods' IPO. Also coming out ahead is Real Goods itself, raising $55 million in a dodgy IPO market with a ludicrous valuation. DODGY???

And investors in the IPO? Until Real Goods starts delivering on its pledge to push up profit margins, they are likely to grow increasingly disenchanted with the price of the stock.

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