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Wind Versus Solar: Is One a Better Wager?

United Technologies (UTC) announced yesterday that it was taking a 50% stake in UK-listed Clipper Windpower -- United shares shot up more early this morning after the GE deal was announced than they did yesterday, coming near a 52-week high it had reached in mid-November.

It would be foolish to draw investment conclusions from one day in the volatile alternative energy markets, but there is no doubt that it was a bad day for solar and a good day for the wind sector.

Only two solar firms were up on Thursday. One was Energy Conversion Devices (ENER), with a 7.4% gain on reportedly revived rumors of a potential acquisition by Applied Materials (AMAT). Applied Materials sounded a bullish note about its solar business for 2010 at a conference in Europe yesterday. A report on Barron's.com's Tech Trader Daily, however, put the chances of the acquisition rumors being true at zero.

Evergreen Solar (ESLR) was also up, by 3.3%, on reported comments made by one of its executives at an industry conference that it would move all future development to China.

While the market responded positively to "the news," as Chinese operations will save the Evergreen money, analysts who cover the firm indicated that the China plans weren't really new, as Evergreen's management has been talking about this all year. The real story in the Evergreen move is by now an old one: just another example of disparity between the U.S. and China as manufacturing locales, due to labor costs and the currency markets.

Theodore O'Neill, an analyst at Kaufman Brothers, noted that even though Evergreen's existing plant in Massachusetts is completely automated, hiring manual labor in China and shipping solar panels back to the U.S. from China will still result in lower production costs than using its streamlined, ultra-efficient robotic assembly line approach in the U.S.

Even ratings action that has recently sent solar stocks had no effect today, with a buy reiteration on Trina Solar (TSL) from Collins Stewart and a price target upped from $51 to $56 doing nothing to keep Trina from being in negative territory, albeit only down 0.3%.

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