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Solar Stocks That May Not Survive to 2014

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SunPower (SPWR - Get Report)
SunPower shares are up 16.5% this month.

Unlike First Solar, Simko has little hope for this company.

"SunPower is in a horrible situation. To me, it's a huge problem and a Total executive recently pegged it right when he said it would be bankrupt without the investment by Total."

Total (TOT) took a majority stake in SunPower in the middle of 2011, and recently upped that stake in exchange for SunPower buying its European-based solar company Tenesol.

As for the remaining SunPower shares that trade publicly, Simko says that SunPower is in the same boat as the high-cost European solar panel makers that find it difficult to compete in today's low-priced panel world.

Simko said SunPower's recent track record of underwhelming financial results speaks volumes: SunPower lowered its 2011 guidance three times over the course of the year.

"The last time they made money was in the fourth quarter of 2010 and that was it for them," Simko said. The fourth quarter of 2010 was a huge boom quarter for solar stocks when Italy installed more solar projects than anyone had foreseen. Yet to show how quickly the situation reversed itself, Italy's demand outlook is now a headwind for solar and SunPower has had to write off much of a solar project pipeline it bought in Italy.

"They get no benefit from that pipeline now," Simko said.

At the end of the day, the key difference between First Solar and SunPower -- the two largest U.S. solar panel makers -- is the cost structure. Even if First Solar can't make much money, if any, selling modules, it is saved by the pipeline business. SunPower, with Total's backing, may develop a project business that does better, but they haven't shown the ability to make profits in the new solar reality.

"Lots of promises and nothing delivered," Simko said. That is, except for one very timely acquisition by an oil major, but that doesn't help holders of the outstanding SunPower shares now.

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