First Solar and Gafisa Get Things Shaking


There are one-hit wonders, and then there are those stocks for which the initial big move is only a preview for even bigger and better gains to come.

Solar panel maker First Solar (NAS: FSLR) and Brazilian homebuilder Gafisa (NYS: GFA) surged 70% and 58% higher, respectively, over the past 30 days, far surpassing the broader market's 1.5% rise. The solar industry is still operating under a cloud of doubt and suspicion about its viability, and even in the insular Brazilian housing market there are cracks in the foundation of whether it can rebuild itself.

For two stocks that have been lagging the indexes, the question investors need to ask is: Can they hold on to those gains?

A mighty temblor
Certainly, it looks like rays of sunshine broke through rents in the pall hanging over the solar industry, after First Solar beat Wall Street EPS expectations by $0.74 in the first quarter and raised earnings guidance. Or did it? As I pointed out at the time, Maxim Group analyst Aaron Chew says that adjusting for margin and operating expenses the solar shop hid inside an adjustment for stock-based compensation, First Solar actually cut its guidance by $0.50 per share rather than raised it.

The Fool's Travis Hoium also says First Solar's results are a bit of an anomaly, considering results that Trina Solar (NYS: TSL) and Yingli Green Energy are posting.

While the market largely ignored those who gainsaid the growth, perhaps others are starting to see the light too. Analysts at Pacific Crest are said to have cut their estimates for the solar-panel maker after Yingli and JA Solar (NAS: JASO) disappointed. Both cut shipment expectations between 8% and 10% after Chinese manufacturers incurred big losses and prices tumbled.

The hope for First Solar is that some emerging market becomes the beacon for investment the industry so desperately needs. Right now it's pinning its hopes on India, where it plans to develop solar farms without government subsidies. Maybe so, but a Bloomberg report indicates how challenging that will be, as domestic panel makers are also dealing with the supply glut that has upended other solar markets but has left India with 80% of its capacity sitting fallow.

First Solar's shares pulled back more than 5% today, and I'm certain that's not the last of it. When its expansion strategies don't come through and the reality of its earnings are felt, the stock will fall further.

I've had a underperform rating on First Solar on Motley Fool CAPS, one that I don't plan on changing anytime soon. All-Star member Chemdawg says solar is expensive compared with other forms of energy, and "I just dont see the long term drivers in place for solar in general." But tell me in the comments section below if you agree this solar shop will burn investors betting on bigger growth.

No laughing matter
It's not just in the United States where central bankers forge ahead with disastrous policies that only serve to extend the pain of a recession. The Federal Reserve's forced low-interest environment has only exacerbated the economy's problems, and Brazil seems determined to follow along.

Its central bankers haven't been quite as aggressive as Ben Bernanke, but they just cut interests rates for the ninth consecutive time, lowering the rate to 7.5%. The Brazilian economy, once one of the strongest and part of the so-called BRICs that fueled global growth, has had to confront its own recession and bring under control a threat of inflation. GDP growth was less than 1% in the first quarter compared with the year-ago period.

So it shouldn't be a surprise that housing has been affected, and homebuilder Gafisa, as the country's largest builder, should feel the impact hardest. It's not dissimilar to Xinyuan Real Estate (NYS: XIN) , a Chinese builder, that's seen its stock fall 25% from recent highs, as the economy there comes in for a harder landing than analysts were anticipating.

The desire to boost consumer spending, which in turn would theoretically boost spending on homes, has been the driving force behind the easy-money policies of the central bankers. Still, one need only look at Canada and Germany -- which have not enforced a near-zero interest rate policy only to witness their economies rebound -- to see the negative effects of easy credit.

Yet after reporting a surprise second quarter profit of almost half a million dollars, Gafisa's stock has nearly doubled off its 52-week lows. Management says it's focusing on generating cash flows and reducing its debt, but perhaps like here in the U.S., unless and until there's a sustained recovery and not one just built on temporary -- and mostly ineffective -- financial rejiggering, Gafisa will need to wait for a full turnaround.

It should also be clear to investors that one quarter doesn't make a trend, so they should wait to see if it can put together a string of such surprises. In the meantime, share your view in the comments box below on whether Gafisa will be guffawing all the way to the bank.

Shake, rattle, and roll
These stocks shook the market this month, and The Motley Fool has a new premium report out on First Solar, with a detailed look at the company's market position and potential. Included are a look at the key areas investors must pay attention to all with the risks. The report comes with updates when big news happens, so you can always stay up to date on the solar shop's progress. Get the details.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey holds no position in any company mentioned. Check out hisholdings and a short bio. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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