Lithium Battery Stocks: Which Are You Most Bullish On?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As electric car trends continue to gain momentum in 2011, investors are desperate to learn what's in store for makers of the rechargeable batteries that will be powering them.

"The lithium battery business could become very large depending on the market's acceptance of electric cars and hybrids, how quickly battery costs can be lowered and the extent of government subsidies," Wunderlich analyst Theo O'Neill says. Under the heading of "electric car acceptance," General Motors ( GM) has raised its planned production rate of plug-in hybrid electric Chevrolet Volts to 60,000 a year by 2012, from the initial planned production rate of 30,000 a year, according to D.A. Davidson analyst Avinash Kant, who cites industry sources in an equity research report. General Electric ( GE) recently announced that it will buy 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015 -- almost half of them from GM, including the 2011 Chevy Volt.

Needham analyst Michael Lew believes that lithium battery separator producer Polypore ( PPO) is positioned to "usher in a new era of transportation," owing to its technical advantage.

Polypore recently announced a $32 million lithium separator production expansion project to meet the expected rev up in electric vehicle demand, adding to a number of its other expansion projects around the world. "This is not a 'build it and they will come' strategy, in our view, as management noted definitive 'line of sight' into demand linked to specific customer vehicle programs," BB&T analyst Kevin Maczka said in a note.

Reflecting Maczka's view is Ardour analyst JinMing Liu, who views Polypore's ramp-up of production capacity and debt-load reduction as a sign of its "prudent decisions" with capital.

Needham's Lew notes that while there is no guarantee Valence ( VLNC) will find a favorable resolution for its intellectual property disputes, and no guarantee it can lower costs and expenses to make its products more affordable or stay competitive amongst peers with larger assets, he sees "accelerated" market adoption of the company's products due to its reliable technology.

Fleets, including those of transit buses -- one Valence customer group -- require reliable technology to deliver "on time" services, Lew pointed out. MDB Capital analyst Jon Hickman tells clients that though Valence's fiscal 2010 revenue of $16.1 million was lower than he had expected, he's encouraged by the company's recent order trends and management's comments about its large and growing backlog of orders.

Lew said he'll become increasingly optimistic about Valence stock once it resolves its intellectual property dispute with the University of Texas. At the same time, Wm Smith analyst Rob Young expects the company's overall intellectual property disputes to find a resolution, as they have done in the past.

According to Morningstar, industrial chemicals, fertilizers, iodine and lithium producer Sociedad Quimica Y Minera De Chile ( SQM) bears believe the company faces possible oncoming pricing pressures in its lithium segment, owing to the possibility that Australian miner Orocobre could add as much as 40,000 metric tons of lithium production over the next several years.

Morningstar also notes that SQM has in the past resorted to more expensive energy sources during natural gas shortages in Chiles. "This situation is expected to continue, eating away at the company's profits."

Potential SQM bull scenarios highlighted by Morningstar include a surge in lithium prices owing to strong demand for lithium batteries in the electric vehicle space, and the usage of lithium-aluminum alloy in next-generation airplane models.

"We predict SQM will maintain its market share leads," Morningstar analyst Jeffrey Stafford says in note. "However, this is not a foregone conclusion, given that the company will always be susceptible to irrational pricing in all of its markets."

S&P analyst Efraim Levy estimates that Johnson Controls ( JCI), which specializes in auto interiors, building efficiencies and vehicle batteries -- especially lead acid batteries, but also increasingly lithium batteries -- will see revenue rise by 10% in fiscal 2011, owing to an increase in vehicle sales and production in the U.S. and most other regions.

However an increase in raw material costs and pricing pressures from customers could offset these positive trends, he said.

In a note, Morningstar analyst David Whiston said Johnson Control's heavy investment in lithium ion batteries and its purchase of the battery business of auto parts supplier Delphi -- the same one that helped Delphi build a presence in China -- will contribute to growth over the years. However, it's still unclear whether Johnson Controls will ever become a leader in the emerging lithium battery market, Whiston says.

While a number of U.S. stock exchange-traded companies in the lithium battery business were working round the clock to ready themselves for the expected expansion of the electric car market, in Canada, lithium battery pure play Electrovaya has surged about 173% last year. The company recently brought on former Chrysler president of global electric motorcars Bruce Coventry as vice president of operations, and has become the supplier of a Tier 1 automotive OEM (original equipment manufacturer).

In light of all this, which of the following lithium battery top performers of last year are you still bullish about for 2011? Take our poll below, and see what TheStreet predicts.

Which of the 2010 top-performing lithium battery top stocks are you still bullish on for 2011?

Sociedad Quimica Y Minera De Chile
Johnson Controls
More on Earnings
Today's Top Earnings
Earnings Calendar

-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to Andrea Tse.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to:


Copyright 2010 Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

More from Stocks

Markets Look Confused After Latest Beating

Markets Look Confused After Latest Beating

General Electric Expulsion From Dow Symbolizes Unsettled Week in Markets

General Electric Expulsion From Dow Symbolizes Unsettled Week in Markets

How Small-Cap Stocks Can Protect Your Portfolio From a Trade War

How Small-Cap Stocks Can Protect Your Portfolio From a Trade War

Week Ahead: Trade Fears and Stress Tests Signal More Volatility To Come

Week Ahead: Trade Fears and Stress Tests Signal More Volatility To Come

3 Great Stock Market Sectors Millennials Should Invest In

3 Great Stock Market Sectors Millennials Should Invest In