It's all around us but only recently has become a major energy source -- wind power. Wind provides nearly 5% of U.S. electricity, up from virtually nothing a decade ago, and is projected to reach 35% by mid-century.
The situation gets better, too. The U.S. projection is in line what the world is expected to average by 2050.
Investors looking to get in on of the most significant growth stories of the century have many options, but Vestas (VWDRY) stands out. The Danish wind turbine equipment maker and installer, with a market cap of nearly $15 billion, is one of the purest pure plays in investment history. It's where the wind blows.
However, investors need to be mindful of the risks. The competition is broad and deep -- from other wind power equipment companies, which are also very strong players, to the fossil fuel giants, which will not go quietly into the night. The latter have the financial and political muscle to fight clean, sustainable energy and they may even win -- temporarily -- when they lose. Falling demand for fossil fuel will knock down their prices and could lead to a slowdown in the rush of wind.
Still, Vestas is in an enviable position. It is widely considered to be the biggest, most experienced wind turbine company in the world. It's a global competitor and holds the record for having produced the biggest wind turbine. It's also poised for the next big leap in wind power -- building and installing floating off-shore turbines -- that could bring cheap, sustainable energy to the roughly half the world's population that lives within a hundred miles of a coastline.
Make no mistake about it, the competition is nipping at its heels. That's a strength as well as a threat. Vestas is part of the Big Four of wind power in an industry where size counts. The foursome account for over 40% of the global market, in an increasingly capital intensive business that is no place for upstarts. The other three are Xinjiang Goldwind (XJNGF) , Siemens (SI) and General Electric (GE - Get Report) , which leads Vestas in the U.S.
While the quartet may jockey for position, Vestas should be the company investors keep their eye on. Wind turbines and other aspects of the power business make up only one of many businesses operated by the GE and Siemens conglomerates. However well they do as wind power manufacturers, it won't have nearly the impact on the bottom line and for their stocks' performance as it does for Vestas, which is only in the wind power business -- originating in Denmark, too. The company's American shares currently trade over the counter at $22.50.
For all its power, Goldwind may be literally too foreign for many U.S. investors. It's no global competitor, as its installation are only in one huge market, China, its home country. Also, its government owns a big chunk of the stock and its shares trade only on Chinese exchanges, including Hong Kong (i.e. no American shares).
Not surprisingly, Vestas's stock has outperformed the competition and swamped the S&P 500 Index since recovering from the Great Recession. Its shares have risen over 1,400 percent compared to just 77% for the index in less than five years.
Even after putting up such spectacular gains, the past month has been a good time to invest in Vestas. In the wake of the anti-environmental sweep of the November elections, its shares plunged nearly 30% from its near record highs. The stock is back on its upward climb, but still below its peaks.
Vestas isn't a sure thing, but it is in a business that is close to being one, and that may be a very good place to be for the company and investors.