Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Was Solyndra the Reason Goldman Sachs Threw First Solar Under the Bus? (FSLR; GS; SPWRA)

Goldman Sachs' downgrade of Sunpower and more particularly First Solar, with which Goldman was underwriter, major shareholder and best buds, got the investoblogs humming yesterday.
GS owned 4,300,000 shares of FSLR as recently as August, 2007. The Walmart heirs were original funders of FSLR (and the largest holders). One of the things brought up on the blogs is a passage from a Fortune article we linked to in July:
...No one has been as quick to move into the Mojave -- or as tightlipped about it -- as Solar Investments.

That entity, it turns out, is Goldman Sachs' solar subsidiary. The investment bank's designs on the desert are a topic of intense interest and speculation. Goldman declined to comment. But here's what we know:

Solar Investments filed its first land claim in December 2006 and within a month had applied for more than 125,000 acres for power plants that would produce ten gigawatts of electricity. Many of the sites lie close to the transmission lines that connect the desert to coastal cities. (Goldman has also staked claims on 40,000 acres of the Nevada desert.)

Nobody expects Goldman to begin operating solar plants. It will probably either partner with another developer or sell its limited-liability company (and its leases) outright. The firm has been making the rounds of solar developers....

"I view Goldman as a very interesting indicator of things to come," says Brian McDonald, PG&E's director of renewable-resource development.

Among the investors in Solyndra is Madrone Capital Partners, which manages money for the Waltons. Gregory Penner was recently elected to Walmart's board. Here's a snip from the company's press release:
Penner, 38, has been a General Partner at Madrone Capital Partners since 2005. He served as Wal-Mart’s senior vice president and chief financial officer in Japan from 2002 to 2005. Prior to working for Wal-Mart, Penner was a general partner at Peninsula Capital, an early-stage venture capital fund, and a financial analyst for Goldman, Sachs & Co. He is a member of the board of directors of, 99Bill Corporation, Cuill, Inc. and Global Hyatt Corporation. Penner is married to Carrie Walton Penner, daughter of Wal-Mart Chairman Rob Walton.
Goldman Sachs was recently raising money for Solyndra. From Greenlight, August 12:
...Under the deal, Goldman Sachs, the lead bank on the deal, is trying to sell $120 million of convertible securities to existing investors and $230 million to newcomers. The convertible securities could be converted to Solyndra shares in the event of an IPO....MORE
Solyndra's CIGS approach has some advantages over FSLR's CdTe. On the other hand it could just be the Walton's and Goldman doing the cheap stock thing all over again.
It will be interesting to see how much FSLR stock the two entities have sold. I'll be coming back to this. For sure.