Does Investing in Wind Power Make Sense?

by David Fessler, Investment U Senior Analyst
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The answer is a qualified, “Yes.” You just have to pick the right company. U.S. investors typically aren’t familiar with the “Who’s Who” of wind turbine manufacturers. That’s not surprising. Compared to other places around the world, wind power isn’t exactly taking off here.

According to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, in a speech at the American Wind Energy Association’s Offshore Wind Conference, just the offshore wind potential represents four times the present electrical demand of the country. And that’s only for turbines located off the eastern coast of the United States.

Without juicy government incentives and ready access to capital, wind growth is like a turtle heading out of the starting gates at the Kentucky Derby.

Installed wind power capacity in the United States as of June 1011 amounted to about 42.4 gigawatts, a miniscule percentage of our total load. You can check out the map below from the U.S. Department of Energy to see how much, if any, your state gets from harnessing the power of the wind.

As a result, few domestic manufacturers are located here. With a few exceptions, foreign wind turbine companies are reluctant to invest huge amounts of capital to build factories here.

General Electric Company (NYSE: GE) is the most notable U.S. wind turbine manufacturer. Globally speaking, they’re not a very big player.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, China has close to 100 manufacturers (not a typo) for wind turbines. Like everything made in China, there are a few good Chinese wind turbine manufacturers. There’s also a boatload I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot barge pole. But wind power in China is a topic all in itself.

Europe is in the Wind Power Driver’s Seat

Large, commercial wind power really got its start in Europe. According to the European Wind Energy Association’s (EWEA) latest figures (February 2011), there are over 12,000 wind turbines installed there, mostly in European Union countries.

They’re cranking out a combined 84 GW, or roughly twice what’s installed in America. 2010 saw an additional 9.3 GW of wind power added at a cost of €12.7 billion. Again, most of that was in countries belonging to the European Union.

Why aren’t we seeing that kind of growth here? America just can’t seem to get its act together with regards to a national energy policy that might foster more rapid deployment of wind power.

So can wind companies make money without Americans in the wind energy mix? Let’s take a look a two large European wind turbine companies. One’s doing well, and one isn’t.

Let’s start with Danish wind turbine maker, Vestas Wind Systems A/S (OTC: VWDRY.PK).

With a market capitalization of $3 billion, Vestas is the largest maker of wind turbines in the world. It’s installed over 44,000 turbines in 65 countries around the globe.

As of the end of last year, Vestas shipped 2,025 turbines with a total generating capacity of 4,057 megawatts (MW).

But the company’s stock performance has been less than stellar over the same period, off about 54 percent since the beginning of the year.

The company announced that it had recorded revenue of €3,798 million for the first nine months of 2011, or about the same as last year. But instead of the €136-million profit recorded in 2010, it posted a €84-million loss.

It attributed its poor performance to weak economic growth in OECD countries, and it plans to trim its fixed costs by €150 million in 2012. The company expects to book about 4.5-GW worth of orders for 2012.

But a little further south, Gamesa Corporacion Technologica SA (OTC: GCTAF.PK), a Spanish maker of wind turbines, is a different story.

With a market cap half the size of Vestas, Gamesa is doing well. It expects about 3.5-GW worth of orders next year. It’s already booked over 1-GW of that figure. About 95 percent of its business comes from outside of Spain, and it recently saw a surge in business from Latin America and India.

For the first nine months of 2011, the company posted a 13-percent increase in sales and its net income rose 20 percent to €30 million. Its shares are also off year to date about the same as Vestas.

If you want wind in your investment sails, Gamesa’s growth prospects, leaner operating expenses and ability to make a profit make it a better bet.

Good investing,

David Fessler