Down 74% From Its High, Is This Solar Energy Stock a Buy?

Shares of solar tracker manufacturer Array Technologies (NASDAQ:ARRY) have undergone a brutal 74% drawdown and are now 67% lower for the year. It’s doing much worse than the Invesco Solar ETF (NYSEMKT:TAN), which is down around 30% so far in 2021.

Solar was one of the best performing industries in 2020. This year, the narrative has flipped as solar and other renewable stocks are facing a slew of competitors, supply chain issues, and the threat of higher interest rates.

Here’s a look at why shares of Array Technologies tanked — and where to go from here.

Solar panels and wind turbines at sunrise.

Image source: Getty Images.

A quick primer

Before we begin, it’s important to understand Array’s role in the solar industry. If you follow the sector, you might be familiar with panel players like First Solar, inverter and power optimizer manufacturers like SolarEdge, or microinverter makers like Enphase Energy. Array doesn’t compete with any of these companies. Instead, it makes trackers that clamp onto solar panels. Its focus is on utility-scale projects, not residential customers.

These single-axis trackers adjust panels to optimize performance throughout the day. Over the years, Array has emerged as a leader in the tracking industry. The value proposition is simple: If its trackers can generate more energy for a lower price than the cost of setting up new panels, then they help customers save money.

Why shares are plunging

Array’s sell-off has been swift and brutal, consisting of three key phases over the course of a few months.

Phase 1: The sector decline

After starting the year above $43 per share, Array quickly began sliding along with the broader solar industry. There were a number of factors that played into the sector’s decline, but the big ones were lower earnings expectations, rising interest rates, more competition, and valuation concerns.

Higher interest rates in particular directly affect Array. They make it more expensive to borrow money, which in turn can lower the profitability of development projects. Array’s customers tend to be engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) firms that bid for major solar projects. Fewer projects mean fewer bids, which in turn can lead to less business for Array.

ARRY Chart

ARRY data by YCharts.

Phase 2: The Oaktree Capital sale

Shortly after Array reported its fourth-quarter and full-year 2020 results, Oaktree Capital, an early investor in Array Technologies and formerly one of the largest shareholders in the company, sold 35.48 million shares in March. Early investors selling shares tends to be a red flag. What made this sale particularly jarring was its size and valuation.

Oaktree’s sale represented over a fourth of Array’s stock float (the number of shares owned by the public). The shares were also sold for an average price of $28, which was below the price of Array stock at the time. A key stakeholder offloading its position for what was then a 52-week low isn’t a good look. And sure enough, Array’s share price came under more pressure.

Phase 3: First-quarter earnings

The final blow came last week when Array reported its first-quarter 2021 results. More important than the numbers themselves is the severity in which Array’s supply chain is being impacted by higher costs for steel and ocean and truck shipping costs. The company’s operating expenses and costs of goods sold (COGS) skyrocketed due to a global shortage in commodities that previously were somewhat stable. Steel accounted for around half of the company’s first-quarter COGS. 

ARRY Cost of Goods Sold (Quarterly) Chart

ARRY Cost of Goods Sold (Quarterly) data by YCharts.

Management reiterated in the earnings call that the solar industry as a whole is healthy and that many of the long-term growth drivers remain intact. But the increased cost of steel and other supply chain issues singlehandedly spoiled what could have been quite a profitable quarter. Instead, the company squeaked out a meek $2.9 million in net income. To make matters worse, management suspended its full-year guidance, hinted that second-quarter revenue and profitability could be even lower, and said it was too early to know when the business environment will normalize. It also said it wouldn’t provide guidance until shipping and commodity costs become more predictable. 

What to do now

Before the post-earnings plunge, Array looked like a good value based on its previously stated guidance — which called for revenue in the range of $1.03 billion to $1.13 billion, adjusted EBITDA between $164 million and $180 million, and adjusted net income per share of $0.82 to $0.92. But with that guidance now off the table and profitability in question, Array’s short-term prospects look bleak.

There’s no sugarcoating the fact that the company was blindsided by rapidly rising commodity prices. In response, Array has been scrambling to secure contracts with suppliers that will allow it to buy steel at a discount to the spot price It’s also looking to raise prices and pass along some of the higher commodity costs to its customers. The problem with raising prices is that customers could simply delay their orders to the second half of the year, when commodity prices are expected to come down. 

It’s disappointing to see just how vulnerable Array is to rising steel prices. However, much of the long-term thesis remains intact. Given its reduced share price, Array seems like a good turnaround play. But investors interested in the stock should accept that the road to recovery could take quite some time, not to mention there could be more pain ahead if steel and shipping costs remain high.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.