The leading solar panel manufacturer, FirstSolar (NASDAQ: FSLR) has appreciated by 45% from lows of near $100 to a closing price of $154 on October 14. "I wouldn't be stepping into buying these stocks right now," says Pacific Crest senior analyst Mark Bachman, who covers solar stocks. Still, he rates FirstSolar as a market perform and considers it the best solar stock at present on his coverage list.
Nonetheless, there are stealthier and less sexy climate change plays remaining for investors willing to buck market momentum. Most of these names are out of favor in the markets, and represent value opportunities. "Information technology related to cleantech is very cold right now. So are certain types of pollution controls and recycling technologies," says Rafael Coven, managing director and index manager for the Cleantech Group's Cleantech Index Fund (NYSE: PZD), an ETF that tracks green investing issues.
One IT company that Coven puts on his list is software maker Autodesk Inc. (NASDAQ: ADSK) and Ansys. Autodesk makes programs that help design everything from consumer products to buildings to large developments. Autodesk can help designers create prototype products virtually, rather than by making actual physical models -- a capability that both saves money and environmental waste. Autodesk has also added functionality that allows designers, architects, and engineers to asses the sustainability of buildings and product designs in the design phase. "Autodesk makes it much easier to design things for lower carbon output and better efficiency," says Coven.
Further, environmental impact assessments are becoming more important as carbon footprint considerations figure more prominently in the minds of large corporations like Apple. Priced at around $25, Autodesk shares remain roughly 50% off highs of $51 from December 2007. Autodesk should leverage nicely any rebound in construction or industrial production and design as those sector ramp up for more activity and buy new Autodesk licenses in preparation.
Recycling technology is another area that suffered when the global economy crashed. Buyers for recycled materials, such as cardboard, aluminum and paper, evaporated with falling global demand. That hurt Tomra Systems ASA (OTC: TMRAY), a Norwegian provider of recycling technologies. Tomra builds systems that can automate collection, sorting, and handling of recyclables. The little recycling vending machine you see outside your supermarket is probably a Tomra machine, for example.
Tomra's shares fell by two-thirds from $9 highs during the huge oil spike of the summer of 2008 to the $3 level during the depths of the Great Recession. Shares have since rebounded as markets have begun to believe that an economic recovery is in the early stages.
But Coven thinks the company is still relatively unloved compared to greentech peers in the solar or wind sectors. "There is a greatly diminished market for recycled products. But that doesn't mean it will stay that way," says Coven.
Translation? Investors hoping to save the planet may need to move quickly to hop on the laggardly cleantech climate train before it rushes headlong out of the station.
Alex Salkever is Senior Writer at AOL's DailyFinance covering technology and greentech. Follow him on twitter @alexsalkever, read his articles on DailyFinance.