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5 Smart Grid Stock Keys: Washout Doesn't Mean Breakout

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But here's the flip side ...

2. Shoot the lights out with an Echelon and forget about the boring legacy meters

Echelon doesn't have the legacy core metering revenue of an Itron or Elster, and it's embarked on an ambitious plan to ride the emerging market trend by selling metering components like chips and subsystems in markets like China and Brazil.

China is a market where pricing is beyond competitive -- metering companies like Itron have said you have to price so cheaply you can't make money. In Brazil, it's tough to break into the market without the right partner, though Itron and Elster are already active in Latin America. These factors are behind Echelon's approach to gain traction in these key emerging markets by just taking a piece of the action as opposed to enter as a metering company.

For investors concerned about where growth comes from next year after the last of the stimulus-funded projects in the U.S. ends, the major market to look to is Europe. But given the macroeconomic concerns there, European smart grid deployment could be derailed or in the least delayed.

Echelon has chosen a transformative strategy that places it further from the European question but far out on the risk spectrum -- selling chips in China and sub-assemblies in Brazil. If it works, that's a lot of upside to realize, but there are still many unknowns.

At what cost will Echelon gain market share? In other words, how will pricing play out in these markets?

It's transformation versus the incremental growth play of a "boring" company like Itron or Elster, and the transformation could take a few years.

3. If things are looking up for smart grid, where is the Silver Springs Networks IPO already?

The IPO of privately backed smart grid company Silver Springs Networks has been in the hopper for what seems like forever now, and the fact that it's still in the pipeline is a sign that sentiment for smart grid stocks isn't truly optimistic just yet.

There are general market reasons for the IPO delay: Capital markets appetite for IPOs and for alternative energy isn't strong right now and Silver Springs, specifically, may want to wait it out until it can get the valuation it believes its business deserves.

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