A lot of cleantech and alternative-energy names aren't exactly sparkling today. Lithium-ion ace A123 Systems (Nasdaq: AONE) had a barnburner of an IPO last year, but shares recently hit a new low. A-Power Energy Generation Systems (Nasdaq: APWR) has seen the pendulum swing toward pessimism after last fall's euphoria wore off. Broadwind Energy (NASDAQ:BWEN) has gotten the wind knocked out of it, and shares of First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR) have dimmed.
Wall Street's still in love with one cleantech stock, however: Veeco Instruments (Nasdaq: VECO).
Veeco may not be quite as obvious of a cleantech play as the companies named above, but it's certainly keyed into several hot trends. One is nanotechnology. The company's atomic-force microscopes enable precise nanoscale measurement. Another is LED lighting. Veeco's manufacturing equipment cranks out high-brightness light-emitting diodes. The company also sells similar equipment to manufacturers of multijunction and thin-film CIGS solar cells.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry. That probably means you're not a complete nerd. The economic underpinnings of Veeco's current popularity aren't too hard to understand.
Demand for LED capital equipment has simply exploded lately, with LEDs making big inroads as backlighting solutions in devices such as laptops and TVs. While Veeco's overall sales declined in 2009, the LED and solar segment grew revenue by 24%. This year is shaping up to be a blowout, given Veeco's record backlog and plans to dramatically increase manufacturing capacity.
Here's the amazing tidbit: Veeco and its larger competitor Aixtron (Nasdaq: AIXG) commanded more than 90% of global market share for this equipment in 2008. Such a situation can't last forever, as companies such as Applied Materials (Nasdaq: AMAT) are unlikely to sit and watch this boom pass them by. For now, Veeco occupies a supremely enviable position in the supply chain.
Analysts are forecasting earnings of more than $2.80 per share this year. That's a major reversal for a company that hasn't produced an annual operating profit since 2006. Pull up a one-year chart, and you'll see what such a turnaround translates to in share-price terms.
Who could have known that LED lighting would be such a profitable investment theme over the past year?
Disclosure: No positions