Many investors and most media outlets are looking to the next round of corporate earnings as the key to the coming week. The earnings parade does hit full speed in the days ahead (highlights below), and the suddenly less-confident bulls are hoping quarterly results will be better received than in the week just passed. Traders, meanwhile, are turning their attention to Tuesday's State of the Union address -- specifically, to expectations President Bush will once again highlight America's "oil addiction" and the need for alternative energy solutions. "Based on all we're hearing, he wants to try to get ahead of this
alternative energy bandwagon," says Greg Valliere, chief Washington strategist at Stanford Financial Group. "His main goal is to take some attention away from Iraq. Republicans are scared about further losses in 2008, and they have to change the subject. What better issue than this?" Unlike Social Security reform or tax credits for private health insurance, alternative energy initiatives have the advantage of enjoying true bipartisan support. There is even talk in Washington circles that the president will sign the House bill passed Thursday aimed at rolling back billions of oil-industry subsidies, provided it clears the Senate. "Bush will be conciliatory on the subject," Valliere says. "He is starting to soften a bit on the issue of global warming and alternative energy."
After Bush's "addicted to oil" comment in his 2006 State of the Union, alternative energy stocks soared en masse, and many traders are looking for a repeat performance from names such as Evergreen Solar ( ESLR), SunPower ( SPWR), Pacific Ethanol ( PEIX) and the
often-controversial Xethanol ( XNL), which recently got a new CEO. Each was up solidly amid Friday's otherwise lackluster tape. Meanwhile, alternative energy stocks such as Hoku Scientific ( HOKU), the beneficiary of a polysilicon contract with Sanyo Electric, and DayStar Technologies ( DSTI), which restructured its debt Friday, were big winners last week, an otherwise difficult period. Other winners last week included Terra Industries ( TRA) and Terra Nitrogen ( TNH). However, one money manager sees these agricultural chemical plays declining in the coming week because they had previously benefited from weakness in natural gas, which he believes will resume Friday's bounce of 57 cents to $6.89 per million British thermal units. Crude also rebounded Friday, as did energy stocks such as Schlumberger ( SLB) and Anadarko Petroleum ( APC). Whether the traditional energy sector continues to rebound will be another key theme of the coming week -- and another factor in whether alternative energy stocks can rally, since falling energy prices had previously damaged their appeal. Indeed, "the big story going into next week is alternative energy -- solar, wind power, ethanol, carbon energy," says the fund manager, who requested anonymity. "People are going to start writing about it on Monday and Tuesday going into the speech, and you'll see nothing but strength going into that."
The fund manager is wary of corn-based ethanol plays such as VeraSun Energy ( VSE) because of rising corn prices, but is bullish and long Environmental Power Group ( EPG), which owns and operates renewable energy production facilities; he believes the stock will benefit if President Bush does return to the alternative energy theme. Another option for those seeking exposure is the PowerShares WilderHill Clean Energy ( PBW) ETF, whose largest holdings can be found
here. Whatever alt-energy vehicle you prefer, don't wait until after Bush's speech Tuesday night if you want to make a bet on the SOU. The folks on Wall Street are already lining up their proverbial ducks. One final thought on energy investing comes from Ken Fisher, CEO of Fisher Investments, a $35 billion investment management firm. "You want right now to look at energy and say to yourself: What would not do badly if energy prices go down but do well if energy prices go up, and what would not do badly if energy prices went up but do really well if energy prices go down, and put those two together," Fisher said in an interview on TheStreet.com TV Friday. Saying "the set is stronger than the individual pieces," he prefers StatOil ( STO) in the former category and Agrium ( AGU) in the latter, calling it a "reverse energy play" and citing the "negative correlations" between the two. Fisher's firm is currently long both stocks. Please note that due to factors including low market capitalization and/or insufficient public float, we consider Environmental Power Group, DayStar Technologies and Hoku Scientific to be small-cap stocks. You should be aware that such stocks are subject to more risk than stocks of larger companies, including greater volatility, lower liquidity and less publicly available information, and that postings such as this one can have an effect on their stock prices.