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German Solar Data Debate: Oktoberfest or Famine?

Stocks in this article: JASOFSLRTSLPWER

(Solar stock, German solar demand story, updated for German solar industry data)

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The latest data from Germany's solar installations database recorded 340.5 megawatts of solar installs in October, a decline of 151MW from the September level of 492MW -- which itself was seen as weak -- and a steep decline from the record month of June.

Solar bears immediately jumped on the latest data as a sign that doom is, as usual, descending on the solar sector, and Germany will fall off so quickly and steeply that prices will crater in solar in the first quarter.

Maybe, but then, again, there's more than one way to skin a German solar database.

While the German October data on solar installations is notable for its weakness, it doesn't necessarily follow that it spells doom for solar.

Doom is certainly one, but only one, possible read-through of the 340.5 MW installed in Germany in October.

So let's start with the negative: If German demand is falling off faster than expected, then first-quarter numbers -- and first-quarter guidance given with fourth quarter earnings in the February to March period -- could be anemic.

If there was a negative read-through from the German October data, it wasn't apparent in solar trading on Monday, though, when all solar stocks followed the general market trend higher. Solar trading was mixed on Tuesday morning at the opening bell, but didn't show the kind of trading pattern that resembles fear and trembling from investors.

First Solar (FSLR) and Trina Solar (TSL), the two leading low-cost module players, were down in trading on Tuesday. Trina was the biggest loser in solar, down 3%, though trading was average. JA Solar (JASO), arguably in the position of being squeezed well ahead of the low-cost module makers, if cell pricing goes over a cliff in a hurry -- and cell pricing has been falling of late -- was up on Tuesday morning. Solar inverter company Power-One (PWER), which has a huge presence in Germany and has been at the forefront of bearish trading about oversupply in 2011 and a slowdown in Europe, was up by more than 4% on Tuesday morning.

It can't be denied that 340MW is pretty light for October, but it's not a stretch to make the argument that this is exactly what the mid-year 2010 feed-in tariff cuts were supposed to accomplish in Germany. If the feed-in tariff cuts have worked to slow the growth in Germany's solar market, the risk of major feed-in tariff cuts, or a hard cap on solar in 2011, may have to be taken down a notch on the doom and gloom scale ahead of 2011 political debate in Germany.

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