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.
4. There's a takeout premium in all of these stocks not being realized. Last year, Toshiba bought European-based Landis+Gyr and Schneider Electric bought Telvent, both deals struck at roughly 10 times multiples. So where is the takeout premium of at least 10 times for the rest of the stocks in the sector like Itron and Elster? Schuman says there is strategic value in these names given the other global conglomerates among the "usual suspects" bidding for Telvent and Landis. The likes of Siemens, GE ( GE) and ABB ( ABB) are always rumored to be sniffing around in the smart grid space, and the smart grid pure plays left are trading at lower multiples than what Toshiba and Schneider paid. That's one more reason why these stocks don't need to "shoot the lights" out in terms of new market growth to see an incremental multiple expansion. 5. Better to be an industrial than a pure play in smart grid? The takeout argument brings up one last important point about the
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