Friday, July 30, 2010

Finally, for all you Ben Graham Net-nets, Here's George Risk Industries (OTCBB.:RISKA)

This is the first time in almost 10,000 posts that we've posted a bulletin board stock symbol and didn't make fun of the company, the symbol or the BB itself.
From The Rational Walk:

George Risk Industries Resembles Buffett’s Dempster Mill But Lacks a Catalyst
Published on July 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm

One of Warren Buffett’s early investments during his partnership years was a small Nebraska company that  manufactured windmills and farm equipment.  The story of Dempster Mill Manufacturing in Beatrice, Nebraska is documented in great detail in Andrew Kilpatrick’s massive three volume set, Of Permanent Value:  The Story of Warren Buffett. Mr. Buffett began acquiring shares of Dempster in 1956 and had a controlling interest by mid 1961.  After gaining control, Mr. Buffett installed new management and dramatically improved the performance of the business.  By 1963, performance had improved and the business was significantly overcapitalized with only 60 percent of assets utilized in the manufacturing operations.  Through a reorganization that involved the sale of the operating business, excess capital was effectively returned to shareholders.

Revisiting George Risk Industries
We first profiled George Risk Industries in early January and noted that the company was massively overcapitalized and represented a potential bargain for investors.  George Risk designs, manufactures, and sells a variety of products with 87 percent of revenue in the last fiscal year coming from security alarm related products. Please refer to the original profile for more background on the business along with a spreadsheet with several years of financial results.

Not much has changed since the original profile based on the company’s recently released 10-K report covering the fiscal year ending on April 30, 2010.  Book value per share has increased to $5.42 per share at April 30 from $5.16 per share as of October 31, 2009 – the latest data available at the time of our original analysis.  The company earned $0.30 per share for the fiscal year ended April 30, 2010 compared to $0.10 per share for the prior year which was depressed due to large investment losses. Net-net current assets (current assets minus all liabilities) was $5.22 per share compared to a recent market price of $4.50.

Swimming in Cash and Securities
Most notably, the company had cash and investments of $23.2 million on the balance sheet as of April 30 which exceeds the company’s current market capitalization of $22.8 million.  The company has no long term debt.  Based on the nature of the company’s operating business, it is doubtful that more than $3 million of cash should be required to run the business and provide for foreseeable contingencies.  This would allow for a distribution of at least $20 million, or $3.95 per share, to be returned to shareholders.

The company earned $1.1 million in pre-tax operating income in fiscal 2010, which does not include income derived from investments.  This income level is still depressed due to the sensitivity of the company’s alarm business to housing starts.  While exact precision is not possible, it seems likely that the ongoing operating business might be worth $10 million, or approximately $2.00 per share.

Based on conservative assumptions, it seems reasonable to believe that George Risk could be worth approximately $6.00 per share from the combined value of the excess cash and securities on the balance sheet and the value of the ongoing business.  This compares very favorably to recent trading levels between $4.25 and $4.50.

But George Risk Industries Isn’t Exactly Like Dempster Mill …MORE

Off-topic: "Fighting to Feed the Dragon: McDonald’s Vs. Yum!" (MCD; YUM)

This picture was not part of the story but it's worth a bookmark:

Top 10 Photos of the Week
In the back room of McDonalds, a photo they hoped would never get out

Recipe for Success ...McDonald's already has about 1,100 outlets in China and the company expects to boost that number to 2,000 by the end of 2013. The Golden Arches opened just under 150 outlets in the country last year, and expects to open 150 to 175 outlets in China this year.

However, Yum - which opens one new KFC in mainland China almost every day - has more than 3,500 restaurants in 650 Chinese cities. In the second quarter alone, the company opened 59 restaurants in China, bringing the total for this year to 155 outlets.

Yum's goal: To eventually open at least 20,000 fast food outlets in mainland China.

"Yum!'s is an amazing story about how they conquered China so much earlier than their main rivals," RJ Hottovy, an analyst at Morningstar, told The Independent. "Part of the reason is that they built up their supply chain and their distribution system quickly, and that is giving them a real competitive advantage....MORE

"Adventures in precious metal charts" (GLD; SLV)

From FT Alphaville:
It’s too late on a Friday to even try to begin to explain.
But news comes to us of “gold backwardation” and quite a startling opposite effect in silver.
The following charts (to discuss amongst yourselves) come courtesy of Sean Corrigan at Diapason Commodities:
First the gold basis:

And here’s the silver basis:

Related links:
The gold contango trade, charts du jour
- FT Alphaville
A GLD contango strategy?
- FT Alphaville

Analysis: Pickens must wait for payday on energy bill (CLNE)

From Reuters:
T.Boone Pickens' proposal to run more U.S. vehicles on natural gas got a boost in Congress this week, but the energy billionaire must wait a few years before profiting from any investments linked to the plan.

An energy bill introduced on Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would provide subsidies for natural gas-fired trucks and municipal vehicles, an idea long championed by Pickens as a way to curb U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Pickens told Reuters during a January interview: "I'm long natural gas, not in 2010, but out beyond 2010." He noted that his position was influenced by high U.S. natural gas reserves.
A Senate vote on the legislation, which includes subsidies for natural gas vehicles up to 18-wheelers and construction of filling stations, is expected shortly. But before becoming law, the bill must also pass in the House of Representatives.

Hedge fund managers and analysts said it was too early to tell whether the bill would support a long position in natural gas. Building infrastructure for natural gas-fueled transport could take years.
Prices for natural gas futures contracts beyond mid-2011 could get a boost "if there is any traction, or perceived traction to this plan," said Mike Guido, head of hedge fund sales in commodities for Macquarie Bank in New York. "It could lend a bid further out the curve, but there's not much of an impact for the next 12 months." (Graphic: )
Pickens' Clean Energy Fuels Corp. which supplies natural gas to some of the small fleet of existing vehicles, also stands to benefit.

Pickens was unavailable for comment, but spokesman Jay Rosser said: "The notion that Boone's in this to make money is nonsensical. Remember, he has spent well over $60 million on the Pickens Plan campaign," adding that his intention is to avoid saddling future generations "with such a national security or economic burden."

Rosser did not provide information about Pickens' current holdings in the gas market but said his firm, BP Capital, has held both long and short positions in the natural gas market this year.
Natural gas prices settled at $4.82 per mmBtu on Thursday, up about 23 percent since May's lows, but far below the peak of more than $13 reached in July 2008.

Hedge fund managers say it would not make sense to take a long position on natural gas based on the current status of the legislation. They said a shift to gas as a transportation fuel would probably create a choppy price environment as supply and demand duke it out. Hedge funds generally exploit such volatile price environments and welcome them as opposed to steadier prices based on more predictable supply and demand....MORE

"Wheat Rises to Highest Price 14 Months as Russia Drought Crimps World Crop" and "Biggest Monthly Advance Since 1973"

Two from Bloomberg, who seem to be paying attention:
Wheat rose to the highest price in almost 14 months as droughts in exporting countries including Russia threatened to reduce supplies.

Global inventories will fall to 192 million metric tons by June 30, 2011, down 2.5 percent from a year earlier, the London- based International Grains Council said yesterday. Russia’s harvest will drop 19 percent to 50 million tons this year, the IGC said. Drought has damaged 32 percent of Russia’s planted area, the government said.

“With the news that’s coming out of Russia, stocks are tightening up all around,” said Jason Britt, the president of Central States Commodities Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. “Any decreases in the crop will come to center stage.”

Wheat futures for September delivery rose 26.25 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $6.5375 a bushel at 1:01 p.m. on the Chicago Board of Trade, after touching $6.615, the highest level for a most-active contract since June 3, 2009. Prices are up 9.6 percent this week and 36 percent this month as prospects dimmed for crops....MORE
And a little history:
Wheat Surges, Heading for Biggest Monthly Advance Since 1973, on Drought
Wheat rose for a fourth day in Chicago, heading for the biggest monthly gain in more than three decades, on concern that drought in Russia and parts of Europe will crimp global supply.
September-delivery wheat gained 1.7 percent to $6.38 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade at 2:14 p.m. Paris time, the highest price for a most-active contract since June 2009. The contract is set for a 33 percent monthly jump, the biggest since August 1973.

World wheat stockpiles may slide 2.5 percent to 192 million metric tons by June 2011 as “prolonged dry weather” hurts the outlook for crops in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and the European Union, the International grains Council said yesterday, reversing a June forecast for higher inventories.
“Russia is spurring on the market,” Maxime Jouenne, an analyst at Paris-based farm adviser Agritel, said today. “The market is super-nervous, and operators are looking at the Russia situation,” including possible export restrictions, he said.

Russia declared emergencies in 27 crop-producing regions, four more than a week earlier, because of the worst drought in at least a decade. Dryness damaged at least 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of crops, the government said today, up from 10 million hectares a week ago.
Sale to Soviets

Chicago wheat prices more than doubled in 1973, rising 31 percent in July and 42 percent in August, after the U.S. sold about 440 million bushels (12 million tons) of subsidized wheat to the Soviet Union in July and August 1972.

The so-called Russian Wheat Deal was equivalent to 30 percent of average annual U.S. wheat production in the previous five years, according to a 1973 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The sale was criticized after a “sharp increase” in U.S. food prices, the report shows....MORE 
"Ready Or Not, Here Comes A Corn ETF" (CORN)
"Agricultural Commodities Take Flight" (CORN; WEAT; BDA; MOO)
Wheat: "Have we turned the corner in grains?"
"Wheat Rises as Russia Drought May Boost Demand for U.S. Crops" Has it Peaked?
Corn: A one day Wonder?
"Surprising Corn Numbers"
"Amber Waves of Pain" Pitfalls in Commodity ETF's (DBA; MOO; RJA)
"Commodities -- the Crash You Didn't Hear" (DBA; GLD)
Making Ethanol from Wheat is Stupid
Herschel and Me (Sunspots and Wheat)

North Korean Soccer Coach Sentenced to Manual Labor for Loss (FSLR)

Thank goodness they don't do that to folks who drop 3% in three hour solar trades:
3:31 pm EDT
"First Solar Earnings Preview: What’s the probability of a $19 move?" (FSLR)
Despite all my harping about the "mystery/history" run-up-into-earnings-and-fade moves of the last couple years (and pronouncedly the last four quarters) the stock has not run up this week.
The expectation is that the company will beat so the action will focus on the guidance.
With half an hour to the close I'm thinking long ain't wrong.
The stock is down $1.85 at $135.19.
6:24 pm EDT
First Solar: Guiding EPS Up, Bad Tone to the Call (FSLR)
Crapsky. The stock is down $5.00 again, letting it go, $130.50ish.
More tomorrow with the conference call transcript.
The stock is now down $10.04 at $125.46, Here's the headline story from the Telegraph:
...North Korean football team shamed in six-hour public inquiry over World Cup
The team's coach, Kim Jong-hun, was reportedly forced to become a builder and has been expelled from the Workers' Party of Korea.
The coach was punished for "betraying" Kim Jong-un - one of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il's sons and heir apparent....

...However, media in South Korea said the players got off lightly by North Korean standards.
"In the past, North Korean athletes and coaches who performed badly were sent to prison camps," a South Korean intelligence source told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper....
At least the readers who went with the straddle [rather than the directional? -ed] bet are getting enough move to cover the premium (please don't send me to the labor camp).

Insurance: Midwest Earthquake Risk More Widespread than Earlier Believed

From Reuters:

Study changes picture of U.S. quake hazards
The risk of earthquakes in the U.S. Midwest may be more widespread than geologists have believed, but a "big one" may be less likely at Missouri's New Madrid fault, researchers said on Wednesday.
They found that rivers that swept away sediments at the end of the last ice age could have triggered a series of large earthquakes that began in 1811 in the New Madrid seismic zone.

This suggests that these fault segments are unlikely to fail again soon, but the same process could trigger earthquakes on nearby fault segments, they reported in the journal Nature.
When glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age between 16,000 and 10,000 years ago, monstrous rivers formed and washed away 40 feet of sediment.

Eric Calais of Purdue University in Indiana and colleagues developed a computer model that shows this could have caused the crust underneath to slowly lift and cause the magnitude 7 and greater quakes that shook the Missouri-Arkansas border region in 1811 and 1812, causing the Mississippi River to run backwards and ringing church bells as far away as Boston.

"Models indicate that fault segments that have already ruptured are unlikely to fail again soon, but stress changes from sediment unloading and previous earthquakes may eventually be sufficient to bring to failure other nearby segments that have not yet ruptured," Calais and colleagues wrote.
Areas such as Charleston, South Carolina, hit by a highly damaging quake in 1886, may be susceptible to more activity cased by the processes described by Calais, geophysicist Mark Zoback of Stanford University in California wrote in a commentary....MORE

Another Analyst Weighs in on First Solar: "Cowen’s Stone Reiterates OUTPERFORM on First Solar" (FSLR)

The stock is trading at $127.00, down $8.50.
From SmallCapPulse:
Analyst Comments – Cowen’s Rob Stone reiterated his OUTPERFORM rating on First Solar (Nasdaq:FSLR) this morning after the company reported its Q210 financial results, pointing to cost/watt improvement, higher throughput, rising visibility and upside in the second half if the euro remains stable....
...Key Takeaways:
 ·         There is $0.20 upside if the euro remains at $1.30; raising 2010-13E EPS to $7.38, $8.47, $13.02 and $17.06 on revenue of $2.56B, $3.88B, $5.3B and $6.95B;
 ·         Positive on systems business
·         Sees 30% upside versus the market in 12 months

Rare Earth Metals: Molycorp IPO Very Weak (MCP)

The stock is changing hands at $12.32, down another 53 cents.
The issue was priced below the expected range and closed down from there.
$14.00 price, closed its first day at $12.85.
Here's Greentech:
Molycorp: Another Dud Green IPO
Tesla, Jinko above water; Molycorp, A123, Codexis and Energy Recovery below
The green industry is right one out of every three times.

Molycorp, which wants to mine rare earth elements for use in car batteries and electronics from a big pit in southern California, held an IPO today. The company said earlier in the month that it planned to sell 28 million shares for $15 to $17 a share. It dropped the price to $13.25 a share in the IPO yesterday and on the first day of public trading the stock is hovering between $12 and $13.

In other words, it is starting life as a tadpole -- that is, underwater.

That's becoming, unfortunately, a pattern in the industry. A123 Systems held an IPO to great fanfare (and the occasional note of skepticism) last year. The stock went out at $13.50 It rose sharply but then dropped to the $10 to $11 range. Suddenly, everyone was a critic. Codexis, the biofuel and green chemistry specialist, sold 6 million shares for $13 a share earlier this year. The stock now goes for $9 a share. In 2008, desalination expert Energy Recovery went out at $8. It now sells for $4. Energy Recovery went public before the crash so the price decline can be attributed to a large extent to the recession, but a drop is a drop....MORE

First Solar Shows Utility Type Growth, Does it Deserve a Utility Type Multiple? A VERY Important Article for Solar Investors (FSLR; SPWRA; STP; TSL)

In early trade the stock is down $5.63 at $129.87.
Top line growth of 11.8% year-over-year and 4% sequentially from Q1 does not a growth stock make.
Here's a repost of a very solid bit of analysis done in late January:

A VERY Important Article for Solar Investors (I'm Talking to You First Solar, Trina Solar, Suntech and Sunpower) FSLR; SPWRA, SPWRB; STP; TSL; YGE
This is a few days old but worth the read if you have money in the sector. I sat on it because the group seemed to be bottoming.
I've been hearing similar rumblings (particularly on R&D) but The pulls it all together. A major piece by Eric Rosenbaum.
From TSCM:

Brave New Solar, or Grave New Solar?

There has been a debate within solar circles over the past year concerning the fate of the solar industry's bellwether stock, First Solar(FSLR Quote), and that debate boils down to this: Is First Solar still a growth stock? In May of 2008, First Solar was trading at over $311. On Wednesday, First Solar closed at $114.
While the specific solar industry dynamics that have driven First Solar down do not define the solar industry -- it has been the rise of low-cost Chinese solar players that have been instrumental in changing First Solar's fortunes -- the question about First Solar's growth prospects may be one solar investors are forced to extrapolate onto the entire solar space, given recent political events in Germany and Italy.
By most accounts, Germany is still planning to move ahead with a bigger and faster feed-in tariff reduction than the solar industry expected, and Italy is planning to implement an 8 gigawatt (GW) cap on its solar industry by 2020 that would position it -- one of the the biggest growth markets for solar -- with a less-than-expected growth scenario.
Thus, are we in fact headed into a brave new world of solar, or do the political currents in Europe that are seeking to wipe out the lucrative feed-in tariffs -- which have served as a form of solar welfare -- spell doom for photovoltaic solar before it has a chance to evolve into a more mature industry?
Burt Chao, an analyst with energy firm Simmons & Company, doesn't view the public solar companies, first and foremost, as growth stocks with a high risk-high profit opportunity -- though many investors and capital markets players have acted as if that is the solar end-game. Chao, rather, thinks it is high time for solar to actually begin acting like a long-term energy play. The solar industry needs to reinvent itself to finally be a part of the renewable energy future.
"The fact that all of these companies are still alive and kicking is because of government subsidies," Chao said bluntly, adding, "There has been undisciplined, irrational growth for too long, and a pace of growth less frenzied is better for solar."
The solar industry has known that the reductions in feed-in tariffs would be coming, and solar executives have said all the right things in the past about the need to move past tariffs as a way of growing the solar industry. Still, the solar industry hasn't exactly walked the walked of evolving itself while the getting has been good on lucrative feed-in tariffs, which generate high rates of return for solar projects. 
Case in point: analysts note that while solar stocks are considered technology growth stocks, there is virtually no research and development in the big public solar companies. There hasn't needed to be any.
Chao's hope is that the next outcome -- after what he thinks will be a painful period in solar, especially if China and the U.S. don't pick up the slack from the declining tariff regimes in Europe -- will be a more civilized and rational period of healthy growth for solar.
The potential implications of "Brave New Solar" are many: For one, a potential reclassification of the stocks away from their high-growth profile to a classification that better reflects long-term energy production and power purchase agreements. Steady, utility-like returns, which are pretty far from the current solar profile to which investors have become accustomed. Some analysts have even hypothesized about an era in which solar stocks are defensive plays, which, given the solar sector profile today, is not easy to imagine.
Secondly, there will be a period of protracted mergers and acquisitions as second-tier solar companies are absorbed or go bankrupt. Mehdi Hosseini, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets, said he doesn't expect the big public solar companies to go bankrupt -- particularly with the Chinese government unlikely to allow its solar cadre to fail -- but there will be many private solar players unable to make it, and that may mean the once-lucrative IPO market for solar -- which hasn't come back since the market downturn -- may never return to its former glory days.
On the other hand, there is the potential that new solar technologies emerge -- the industry equivalent of a disruptive technology that improves efficiency at a cost-effective level -- and pushes the current slate of big public solar companies to a position of weakness.
To that point, another big issue for solar is the potential need to ramp up the non-existent research and development among the public photovoltaic players, to improve efficiency and, as a result, increase returns in an era of declining feed-in tariffs and solar project returns.
These are all big "ifs" for solar, though, and there are skeptics who see the lack of current research and development as the doomsday indicator: the sector, they argue, has been acting like Nero, playing the feed-in tariff fiddle while the once-vast tariff empire burned.
Gordon Johnson, an analyst at Hapoalim Securities well-known for his bearish outlook on most photovoltaic players, believes that the recent political turn against solar is setting up the industry to be the next ethanol. "People assume you have to have photovoltaic solar, but that's not the case," Johnson said.  
Johnson's point is not that investment in renewable energy will slow, but that the solar industry that has grown up on lucrative feed-in tariffs may not be entrenched enough within the global economy to ensure its survival.
"The cheapest renewable energy technology that emerges will be the most preferred, and right now, solar photovoltaic energy is the most expensive," Johnson said. Solar has received the most attention because it is one of the easiest forms of alternative energy to get up and running quickly, with low costs to build solar plants and low barriers to entry....MUCH MORE

Carbon Trade: Biggest Beneficiary of U.N. Program (China) Says "Don't Reform U.N. Program"

From Reuters via DNAIndia:

Beijing warns against changing Kyoto carbon dioxide offset rule

A Chinese government fund has told a United Nations panel that it supports project developers which earn carbon offsets under a lucrative Kyoto Protocol scheme, and which rejects the idea that they are over-compensated.

Chinese project developers rejected key grounds for a review of Kyoto's clean development mechanism (CDM), and the China CDM Fund supported them, confidential papers showed a week before a UN panel decides whether to launch a formal review of the scheme.

The projects are the most lucrative under the CDM, which allow rich countries to buy offsets from carbon-cutting projects in the developing world as a way to ease the cost of reducing emissions.
The projects are rewarded if they destroy the potent greenhouse gas HFC 23, which they produce as a waste product in the process of manufacturing refrigerants.

An environmental group, CDM Watch, said earlier this year that the projects were producing more of the waste gas than necessary to destroy it and claim the resulting offsets....MORE

First Solar Q2 2010 Earnings Call Transcript and a Couple Small Upgrades (FSLR)

In early pre-market the stock is down $5.40 at $130.10.
Kaufman Bros. upped their target to $172 from $162. Auriga to $175 from $173.
Reality is going to intrude on the blogging today, I'll have to come back to this.
Here's the presentation management is talking about.
In the meantime, via Seeking Alpha:
Management Discussion
I'm going to cut to the Q&A, this is the bit I was referring to when I said "Bad tone to the call", yesterday. Management seemed to be fumbling around in response to some of the questions, e.g.
...Unidentified Analyst
My question's for Mr. Gillette. Mr. Gillette, First Solar is operating extremely well, but the market is growing much faster than your capacity in 2010 and thus, you're not reaching the market share targets that you set earlier. I'm wondering, what market signals would you need to expand production more aggressively?
Robert Gillette
Well, as you know, we've announced quite a bit of expansion already and we're considering what we may do in the future. It does take time to get the assets in the ground and the equipment in place, so we're working as quickly as we can, I think, to get that achieved. So, yes, we definitely have a near term challenge as it relates to getting product out the door and we tell Bruce, we'd like to get more out every day, so we work on that. And you saw the throughput improvements in the quarter. So we are continuing to evaluate our next increments of capacity and once determined, we'll advise you all of what they are.
And we'll go next to Timothy Arcuri with Citi.
Timothy Arcuri - Citigroup Inc
I had also asked you this last call, but I know that you guys have sort of gotten away from sort of giving a market forecast next year. But maybe you can answer the question of whether you feel better or worse about 2011 demand today than you did when I asked you the same question three months ago?
Bruce Sohn
Better or worse, I think like we state in the front part of the presentation in terms of market, we think, given the changes in FiT and other advances and changes in Germany, that the market is going to grow significantly in 2010. So we -- and the range is, I guess, kind of the consensus forecast is in the 6.5% to 7% range, we gave a range of six to eight -- so we think there's significant growth there. We think that, as we've mentioned before, the markets in Europe outside of Germany are going to grow more rapidly than Germany. So we think these FiT changes may slow the growth or change the market in Germany quite a bit in 2011. But we also think that the other markets, Italy, France and Spain will continue to grow. I think our last estimates on the call were in the range of 60% compounded. So we're putting a lot of focus on that growth, that [indiscernible] (59:13) of it. So I think that we feel good about the demand and our position in 2011. It's those changes and what the impact of those changes that will affect the market and what happens there. I think as Jens mentioned and I mentioned in the body of the presentation, we also have the captive pipeline that buffers the fluctuations that are there and the changes that are there, and we'll still be producing everything we can to fulfill the commitments to external customers as well as our captive pipeline....FULL QA

What 2008's #1 Market Timer is Saying Now (disaster to begin July 26)

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)
We've known his name for 20-odd years and visited him on these pages a half dozen times.*
From MarketWatch:

Crawford calls 'Cardinal Climax'
Commentary: Winning letter says disaster to begin Monday
Is "all hell" about to break loose? One veteran letter thinks so -- and it predicted the Crash of 2008.
Unlike almost everyone else, Arch Crawford's Crawford Perspectives had a fabulous 2008. ( See Jan. 9, 2009, column.) And when I last checked in with it in early 2010, Crawford was predicting a mid-summer massacre ( See Jan. 14 column.)


Now, in its monthly issue published in early July, Crawford predicts "ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE" -- beginning, as a matter of fact, on Monday July 26, 2010.
Crawford means it. The letter has been 200% short since June 7, with stops at 11,466 on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA 10,467, -30.72, -0.29%) and 11.84.56 on the S&P 500 (SPX 1,102, -4.60, -0.42%).

Well, the problem is that Crawford is an astrology letter. This sends many readers (and some editors) into foaming fits. My impeccably scientific attitude: We should just look at its results.

But the opening of Crawford's July issue is definitely the sort of thing that upsets people: "NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE JULY! We mean, of course, the planetary pictures in the sky which are developing towards the tightest harmonic alignments in the most potent areas of the zodiacal circle ever recorded in Earth's written history. These portend increasing and maximizing intensity and rapidity of 'change' on every level of existence: mineral, vegetable, animal, human and spirit. Will Capitalism survive? Will Democracy survive? Will our markets survive? Will governments survive? Will humanity survive? Will Earth survive?
"We don't know, but we'll be SHORT for it!"

Crawford -- along with other astrologers, who however are merely worried about nuclear war, the end of the world etc. -- is impressed with an imminent unusual alignment that apparently involves five key planets.
He writes: "Astrologers call it the 'Cardinal Climax.' It is considered to be the most powerful and important planetary alignment of the modern era. Perhaps it heralds the beginning of the real 'Aquarian Age' or the end of the 'Mayan Calendar.' (After all, what's a few months in a 25,600-year cycle?) These energies actually maximize from July 30 through August 3. There have been 'shadows' preceding and will be echoes afterwards for quite some time."

Crawford adds: "This huge alignment will be followed by a Full Moon on the Fall Equinox and a Lunar Eclipse on the Winter Solstice. We expect the depth and scope of dislocations during this period to exceed anything we have ever witnessed, both in otherwise civilized interaction among nations, and likely our fill in natural disasters."

"We continue to recommend extreme caution and proper emergency measures such as extra food, water, medicines and cash over the next 24 months in particular. Do NOT wait any longer!!"
Let the record, show, however, that Crawford's last issue also repeatedly allowed for what it described as "some attempts to correct an oversold market sometime in July."

What are Crawford's results? Over the year to date through June, the letter is down 0.4% by Hulbert Financial Digest count, definitely better than the negative 5.8% of the dividend-reinvested Wilshire 5000 Total Stock Market Index.

Crawford did underperform the market in 2009. ( See Dec. 24, 2009, column.) But even so, over the past three years the letter is up 9.42% annualized versus negative 9.36% annualized for the total return Wilshire 5000.

Over the many years that it has been followed by Hulbert, Crawford's record has been checkered but interspersed with occasional bursts of eerie prescience. Which is it this time?
Crawford Perspectives usually publishes on the first Monday of each month. But its next issue is delayed until August 9 -- possibly to save mailing costs if the world ends.
"S.E.C. Charges Psychic With Securities Fraud"
(no, it wasn't Arch)
What the #1 Investment Newsletter is Saying Now
Of Bulls, Bears and Rallies
Investing: "Throwing Out the Rule Book" (The best Performing Investment Letter is by an Astrologer)
How not to do Technical Analysis: A-Power Edition (APWR)
First Solar: Chicken Trader Pulling the Plug (FSLR)
Is The Financial Crisis Making You Psychic?
Psychic News Network: Trading Emissions PLC in Bid for Econergy (TRE.L; ECG.L)
Here at PNN we believe...
Still a few kinks in the system. We have to adjust the crystal ball to spot the potential target, not
the bidder. 

American Superconductor: Is it a Good Thing When an Insider BUYS $6.5 Million Worth of Stock? (AMSC)

A quick hit from SEC Form 4:

Check this box if no longer subject to Section 16. Form 4 or Form 5 obligations may continue. See Instruction 1(b).
Washington, D.C. 20549
Filed pursuant to Section 16(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, Section 17(a) of the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 or Section 30(h) of the Investment Company Act of 1940
OMB Number: 3235-0287
Expires: February 28, 2011
Estimated average burden hours per response... 0.5
1. Name and Address of Reporting Person *
2. Issuer Name and Ticker or Trading Symbol
5. Relationship of Reporting Person(s) to Issuer
(Check all applicable)
_____ Director __ X __ 10% Owner
_____ Officer (give title below) __ X __ Other (specify below)
13(d)(3) group
3. Date of Earliest Transaction (MM/DD/YY)
LARKSPUR, CA   94939
4. If Amendment, Date Original Filed(MM/DD/YY)
6. Individual or Joint/Group Filing(Check Applicable Line)
_____ Form filed by One Reporting Person
__ X __ Form filed by More than One Reporting Person
Table I - Non-Derivative Securities Acquired, Disposed of, or Beneficially Owned
1.Title of Security
(Instr. 3)
2. Transaction Date (MM/DD/YY) 2A. Deemed Execution Date, if any (MM/DD/YY) 3. Transaction Code
(Instr. 8)
4. Securities Acquired (A) or Disposed of (D)
(Instr. 3, 4 and 5)
5. Amount of Securities Beneficially Owned Following Reported Transaction(s)
(Instr. 3 and 4)
6. Ownership Form: Direct (D) or Indirect (I)
(Instr. 4)
7. Nature of Indirect Beneficial Ownership
(Instr. 4)
Code V Amount (A) or (D) Price
Common Stock 07/23/2010   P   20,000 A $ 31.28 2,049,328 D ( 1 ) ( 2 )  
Common Stock 07/23/2010   P   16,500 A $ 31.28 1,368,430 I ( 2 ) ( 3 ) By Jean Douglas and James Douglas Irrevocable Descendats' Trust
Common Stock 07/23/2010   P   8,500 A $ 31.28 767,732 I ( 2 ) ( 4 ) By Douglas Family Trust
Common Stock 07/23/2010   P   5,000 A $ 31.28 467,010 I ( 2 ) ( 5 ) By James E Douglas III
Common Stock 07/26/2010   P   52,000 A $ 32.21 2,101,328 D ( 1 ) ( 2 )  
Common Stock 07/26/2010   P   42,900 A $ 32.21 1,411,330 I ( 2 ) ( 3 ) By Jean Douglas and James Douglas Irrevocable Descendats' Trust
Common Stock 07/26/2010   P   22,100 A $ 32.21 789,832 I ( 2 ) ( 4 ) By Douglas Family Trust
Common Stock 07/26/2010   P   13,000 A $ 32.21 480,010 I ( 2 ) ( 5 ) By James E Douglas III
Common Stock 07/27/2010   P   8,000 A $ 32.61 2,109,328 D ( 1 ) ( 2 )  
Common Stock 07/27/2010   P   6,600 A $ 32.61 1,417,930 I ( 2 ) ( 3 ) By Jean Douglas and James Douglas Irrevocable Descendats' Trust
Common Stock 07/27/2010   P   3,400 A $ 32.61 793,232 I ( 2 ) ( 4 ) By Douglas Family Trust
Common Stock 07/27/2010   P   2,000 A $ 32.61 482,010 I ( 2 ) ( 5 ) By James E Douglas III

Thursday, July 29, 2010

First Solar Second Quarter Earnings Call Presentation PDF (FSLR)

This time I mean it, I'm going home. Transcript tomorrow.
Here's the 34 page PDF.

At least it wasn't as bad as this Zacks headline:
Kellogg Crashes, Outlook Bleak

First Solar: Guiding EPS Up, Bad Tone to the Call (FSLR)

Crapsky. The stock is down $5.00 again, letting it go, $130.50ish.
More tomorrow with the conference call transcript.

First Solar: I Shall be Going Long(er) Berkshire Hathaway in the Morning (FSLR; BRK.B)

They own Fruit of the Loom.
FSLR is now trading up a buck at $136.50 after trading as low as $126.50.
The call is just starting, back in a bit.

First Solar: It's all in the guidance (FSLR)

We'll have more after the call.
First Solar: Awoooga, Awoooga--Dive-Dive-Dive (FSLR) "First Solar, Inc. Announces Second Quarter 2010 Financial Results"
"First Solar Earnings Preview: What’s the probability of a $19 move?" (FSLR)

First Solar: Awoooga, Awoooga--Dive-Dive-Dive (FSLR) "First Solar, Inc. Announces Second Quarter 2010 Financial Results"

UPDATE II: "First Solar: I Shall be Going Long(er) Berkshire Hathaway in the Morning (FSLR; BRK.B)"
UPDATE I: "First Solar: It's all in the guidance (FSLR)"
Original post:
Ten minutes after the close the stock is down $6.50 in AH trade.
From the company:
  • Net Sales $588 million
  • PV module cost $0.76/watt
  • EPS $1.84 per fully diluted share
  • Increased 2010 EPS guidance to $7.00-$7.40 per diluted share
TEMPE, Ariz., Jul 29, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) --

First Solar, Inc. (Nasdaq: FSLR) today announced its financial results for the second quarter ended June 26, 2010. Quarterly net sales were $587.9 million, up 12% from $525.9 million in the second quarter of 2009, due to increased production volumes and systems revenue, partially offset by a decline in pricing and lower euro exchange rates. Second quarter 2010 net sales increased $19.9 million from the first quarter of 2010, primarily due to increased turnkey system sales.

Second quarter net income per fully diluted share was $1.84, down from $2.11 in the second quarter of 2009 and down from $2.00 in the first quarter of 2010. Year over year, the declines were primarily driven by lower module average selling prices, and higher operating expenses that were partially offset by increased module production and lower module cost per watt. Quarter over quarter, the declines were primarily driven by higher operating expenses.

PV module manufacturing cost was reduced to $0.76/watt, down $0.05 from the prior quarter and 13% year over year. Annual throughput per line was up 6% quarter over quarter to 59.0 MW. This increases announced or operating capacity from 2.1 to 2.2 GW by 2012.

For 2010, First Solar forecasts net sales of $2.5 to $2.6 billion, reflecting reallocation of module capacity from our systems business to meet stronger module demand by our European customers. Earnings per fully diluted share are increased to a projected range of $7.00 to $7.40 which includes a $0.20-$0.23 reduction for a foreign exchange assumption change from $1.30/euro to $1.20/euro and $0.09-$0.10 per share dilution for the completed acquisition of NextLight Renewable Power, LLC. Total capital spending is projected to be $575 to $625 million. The company expects to generate $575 to $625 million of operating cash flow. First Solar has posted its Second Quarter Earnings Call Presentation, which includes guidance for fiscal 2010 and additional details regarding the key assumptions relating to this guidance, in the Investor section of its website at

First Solar will discuss these results and outlook for fiscal 2010 in a conference call scheduled for today at 4:30 p.m. ET. Investors may access a live audio webcast of this conference call and the earnings call presentation in the investors section of the Company's website at

An audio replay of the conference call will also be available approximately two hours after the conclusion of the call. The audio replay will remain available until Tuesday, August 3, 2010, at 7:30 p.m. ET and can be accessed by dialing 888-203-1112 if you are calling from within the United States or 719-457-0820 if you are calling from outside the United States and entering the replay pass code 7770641. A replay of the webcast will be available on the Investor section on the Company's website approximately two hours after the conclusion of the call and remain available for approximately 90 calendar days. If you are a subscriber of FactSet or Thomson One, you can obtain a written transcript within two hours.

"First Solar Earnings Preview: What’s the probability of a $19 move?" (FSLR)

UPDATE V: "First Solar Second Quarter Earnings Call Presentation PDF (FSLR)"
UPDATE IV: "First Solar: Guiding EPS Up, Bad Tone to the Call (FSLR)"
UPDATE III: "First Solar: I Shall be Going Long(er) Berkshire Hathaway in the Morning (FSLR; BRK.B)"
UPDATE II: "First Solar: It's all in the guidance (FSLR)"
UPDATE I: "First Solar: Awoooga, Awoooga--Dive-Dive-Dive (FSLR) "First Solar, Inc. Announces Second Quarter 2010 Financial Results"

Original post:
Despite all my harping about the "mystery/history" run-up into earnings and fade moves of the last couple years (and pronouncedly the last four quarters) the stock has not run up this week.
The expectation is that the company will beat so the action will focus on the guidance.
With half an hour to the close I'm thinking long ain't wrong.
The stock is down $1.85 at $135.19.
From Option News Network
55% option implied volatility translates to a likely trading range of $37 for next three weeks
First Solar Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) reports earnings after the close today with consensus estimates calling for $1.61 after $2.11 in the year ago quarter, according to Thomson Reuters. Full year 2010 earnings per share (EPS) are expected to be around $7.09, with high and low analyst projections of $8.45 and $6.40 respectively.  Using $7 and this morning’s opening price for the stock around $138, that puts the current price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio just under 20 times 2010 results.
Investors today will be paying close attention to comments from the company on the growth of solar energy initiatives that could fuel photovoltaic product sales going forward, especially after the hit the industry took earlier this year on reductions in subsidies from the number one national proponent of sun power, Germany. In the aftermath of that uncertainty, FSLR shares have fluctuated between $100 and $150 this year, driving 30-day historical volatility to nearly 80% in June and sustaining option implied volatility over 50%.
FSLR vol First Solar (FSLR) Earnings Preview: What’s the probability of a $19 move?

What does the straddle say option players are expecting after earnings today?

Option implied volatility of nearly 55% translates into daily moves of about 3.4% and for the next 22 days until August options expiration, roughly 13.25%. Using implied volatility this close to expiration can be tricky, but another handy gauge of market expectations confirms this data. The at-the-money straddle is an excellent and easy to use indicator of what option players are betting on because by using the combined call and put prices for the strike closest to the actual stock price, you can see what a big group of diverse participants thinks is the most likely trading range, and thus the expected risk for potential price moves in the stock.
As of 11am ET, the August 135 straddle was trading for $15.60 with the stock around $135.75. This means that professional option market makers are willing to take the risk-weighted bet that FSLR stays within a range of about $15.60, higher or lower from the current price, until options expiration....MORE

"How to Make an ATM Spit Out Money"

From MIT's Technology Review:

A computer security researcher demonstrates attacks on cash machines. 
Yesterday, during a flashy presentation at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, a computer security expert showed several ways to break into ATMs.

Barnaby Jack, who is director of research at IOActive Labs, made cash pour from two machines for minutes on end. After studying four different companies' models, he said, "every ATM I've looked at, I've found a 'game over' vulnerability that allowed me to get cash from the machine." He's even identified an Internet-based attack that requires no physical access.

The same talk was supposed to take place at last year's Black Hat conference, but it was pulled at the last moment because of legal pressure from the ATM vendors involved. In his presentation, which did not reveal the exact details of how he performed the attacks, Jack named two vendors--Triton and Tranax--and said he had been in contact with both about fixing the problems.

Jack demonstrated the attacks on two ATMs that he bought online and drove to Las Vegas from his company's headquarters in San Diego. The hardware kit that he used in the demonstration cost less than $100 to make.

In the first part of his presentation, he demonstrated a way for a thief to gain physical access to the ATM made by Triton. The device's main circuit, or motherboard, is protected only by a door with a lock that is relatively easy to open (Jack was able to buy a key online). He then used a USB port on the motherboard to upload his own software, which changed the device's display, played a tune, and made the machine spit out money.

Next, an attack was performed on the Tranax device, which is designed to accept software upgrades over an Internet phone link. Jack showed that a vulnerability in the machine's software allowed him to bypass its authentication system and break in remotely.
Jack said it is possible to find ATMs by using a computer to call one phone number after another; he was able to locate one within a couple of hours by searching through a 10,000-number exchange. An attacker could then exploit the software vulnerability to install control software known as a rootkit. To withdraw money, the attacker would visit the ATM later with a fake card or steal information from other users....MORE

Option Activity Alert: General Electric (GE)

Au contraire.
The stock is trading up 1/2% at $16.13.
From Schaeffer's Research:
Puts were the options of choice on GE yesterday, as traders on the ISE bought to open 2,344 of these bearishly oriented contracts. By comparison, just 912 calls were purchased on GE during the course of Wednesday's trading, netting the shares a single-day ISE put/call volume ratio of 2.57.
The day's downbeat option activity seems to be part of a growing trend, as GE sports an inflated 10-day ISE put/call volume ratio of 0.79, in the 82nd annual percentile. In other words, traders on this exchange have purchased puts over calls at a faster clip just 18% of the time during the past year.

GE SOIRIn the same skeptical vein, GE's SOIR is hovering near annual-high territory.. ....

...However, during the short term, heavy put open interest could actually work in GE's favor. The stock's out-of-the-money August 14 and 15 put strikes carry a combined total of 65,118 contracts in open interest, which could provide options-related support as expiration draws closer.

Economics Smackdown: "Taylor Rips Blinder and Zander"

From Economic Policy Journal:
And I mean rips.

Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi put together a paper attempting to justify Keynesian interventions in the economy. The paper is so flawed that I seriously doubt an economics grad student would get any grade higher than a C on the paper.

Here's  John Taylor, the Mary and Robert Raymond Professor of Economics at Stanford University and the George P. Schultz Senior Fellow in Economics at the Hoover Institution, with his take on the Blinder-Zandi paper.

Yesterday the New York Times published an article about simulations of the effects of fiscal stimulus packages and financial interventions using an old Keynesian model. The simulations were reported in an unpublished working paper by Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi. I offered a short quote for the article saying simply that the reported results were completely different from my own empirical work on the policy responses to the crisis.

I have now had a chance to read the paper and have more to say. First, I do not think the paper tells us anything about the impact of these policies. It simply runs the policies through a model (Zandi’s model) and reports what the model says would happen. It does not look at what actually happened, and it does not look at other models, only Zandi’s own model.
I have explained the defects with this type of exercise many times, most recently in testimony at a July 1, 2010 House Budget Committee hearing where Zandi also appeared. I showed that the results are entirely dependent on the model: old Keynesian models (such as Zandi’s model) show large effects and new Keynesian models show small effects. So there is nothing new in the fiscal stimulus part of this paper.

Second, I looked at how they assessed the impact of the financial market interventions. Again they do not directly assess the interventions. They just simulate the model with and without the interventions. They say that they have equations in the model which include the financial interventions as variables, but they do not report the size or significance of the coefficients or how they obtained them.

Third, the working paper makes no mention of previously published papers in the literature which get different results. It is rather standard in research to provide a literature review and to explain why the results are different from previous published papers

A Mandy Rice-Davies Moment!: "BP denies negligence statement" (BP; APC)

"They would, wouldn't they"*

Yesterday we posted "Could be HUGE for Anadarko: "BP CEO: We won't be found grossly negligent. BP counsel: Yes we will" (APC; BP)". Here's the update, again from the Houston Chronicle's NewsWatch: Energy blog:
We wrote yesterday about a letter from Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott to BP where they claim the company "...acknowledged that gross negligence would be revealed as a cause of the explosion that led to the oil spill."

Such an admission by BP's general counsel would run contrary to what the rest of the company's executive suite is saying and would mean the firm accepts a nearly quadrupling of fines for the spill under the Clean Water Act.

BP denies that its General Counsel Jack Lynch or anyone else at the company made such a statement:
"While BP respects Governor Perry and Attorney General Abbott and appreciates the opportunity to work with them, the recitation in their letter is simply incorrect. During the conference call, neither Jack Lynch nor any other BP representative stated that gross negligence would be revealed as the cause of Deepwater Horizon tragedy."
BP is up 2.76% at $38.75, APC is up 2.87% at $50.22.

*For British politicians of a certain age [often referred to as octo or nona-genarians -ed] the scandal surrounding Secretary of State for War John Profumo's affair with the alleged mistress of a Russian spy was highlighted by the testimony of Miss Rice-Davies, a friend of the alleged mistress, Christine Keeler.
From Wikipedia:
While giving evidence at the trial of Stephen Ward, charged with living off the immoral earnings of Keeler and Rice-Davies, the latter made a famous riposte. When the prosecuting counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied an affair or having even met her, she replied, "Well, he would, wouldn't he?"
We've tried to keep the phrase alive, using it about once per year:

Gore Says Markets are Key in Battle to Combat Climate Change
"Well, he would, wouldn't he?"
Mandy Rice Davies*

ICE, Skating on Thin

Warning: Mandy Rice-Davies moment ahead.
"...we do not believe that a complete overhaul of the current regulatory structure is either warranted or advisable."
UN Can Regulate Emissions Trading Without Conflict of Interest
All together now: A Mandy Rice-Davies Moment!*
Major Problems at California's Public Pension Fund, CalPERS And: A Mandy Rice-Davies Moment!
One of these days I'll have to tell the story of how CalPERS got to this point. It is an ugly tale. For now we'll just post the slow motion train wreck.
On a positive note: Mandy Rice-Davies* moment ahead!  
One of my favorite usages: 
Lord McIntosh of Haringey:  My Lords, I am proud of many things that this Government have done. I pause to anticipate the interjection—"He would say that, wouldn't he?"...
Lords Hansard text for 6 Feb 2002

Senate Gives Natural Gas Transportation Some Lovin', Pickens, Pelosi Score (CLNE)

I just love hanging out at the intersection of Politics and Money. We have some prior posts on CLNE, below.
From Bloomberg:
Pickens, Home Depot Win in Senate’s Energy Measure 
T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire energy hedge-fund manager, and Home Depot Inc., the largest U.S. home-improvement retailer, are winners in energy legislation that fails to help solar-panel and wind-turbine makers.

The measure proposed yesterday by Senate Democrats would give Pickens victory in his lobbying campaign for more use of natural gas, providing $3.8 billion in rebates for cars and trucks powered by the fuel. Home Depot would benefit from provisions to channel $5 billion in rebates to homeowners who upgrade to more efficient appliances or add insulation that reduces energy use.

The provisions were the main survivors among proposals to reshape U.S. energy use under the measure that would also set tougher rules for offshore drilling after BP Plc’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the worst in U.S. history. Absent from the measure were limits on carbon dioxide or requirements that utilities add solar and wind power to their portfolios.

“Boone’s been in the natural-gas business all his life,” Monty Humble, former senior vice president for Mesa Power LLP, a company founded by Pickens in 2007 to build wind farms, said in an interview. “As early as 1988, he advocated the use of natural gas in vehicles. This is consistent with what he was advocating.”
Pickens couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. In April, Humble joined Alston & Bird LLP’s legislative and public policy group in Washington.
Awash in Gas

The U.S. is “awash” in natural gas, thanks to new drilling techniques that make gas locked in shale formations cheaper to recover, Pickens told the House Ways and Means Committee on April 14.
“We are going to look like fools if we don’t use natural gas for transportation,” Pickens told the panel. “The only way we can solve the OPEC oil threat is by replacing their expensive, dirty fuel with cleaner, cheaper American natural gas.”

In October 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who drafted the Senate oil-spill response bill, called Pickens “a good friend and a real visionary.”...MORE
Clean Energy Fuels Inc. "T. Boone Pickens' Gassy Stock" (CLNE)
A Bullish Bet on Clean Energy Fuels: Is Nancy Pelosi a Better Derivatives Trader than Hillary Clinton? (CLNE)  
Pickens, Pelosi Spanked: "Clean Energy posts wider-than-expected Q3 losa" (CLNE)

 A Little Love for Pelosi, Pickens: "Think Equity’s Woodburn Raises Price Target on Clean Energy Fuels " (CLNE)
Jim Cramer, Nancy Pelosi and T. Boone Pickens Walk Into a Bar (CLNE)
Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore and T. Boone Pickens Walk Into a Bar (CLNE) 
T. Boone Pickens: Greenwashing and Rentseeking (CLNE 
T. Boone Pickens has Wind and Gas (CLNE)