Real Goods is up over 100% in the last five days. That’s Real Goods as in the stock, RGSE, for the company Real Goods Solar, Inc. That’s not for real goods as in really good things, well, maybe but that’s a very subjective thing; one person’s real good is someone else’s real bad. But, that’s another story. I wrote a very short synopsis about RGSE in my Semi-Annual Portfolio Review because the company has been shrinking despite being in an expanding market. Somehow they were chasing away investors and not making profits in an industry and a technology that is in high and growing demand. I couldn’t find a definitive answer for the fall, but I suspect management in such situations. Now, the stock is rising, and I can’t find any news about that, either. Small companies can be the easiest and, paradoxically, the hardest stocks to invest in. Welcome to my exercise in futility and hope.
As I relayed in my other main blog, PretendingNotToPanic.com, solar power is becoming so inexpensive, is so much in demand, and has become so pervasive that it and wind are now seen as far more appealing than hydroelectric power. For decades, dams were the premier low-pollution choice for power. Solar was too inefficient. So was wind, but for different reasons. In 2015, the two combined added 118,000 megawatts of power while hydroelectric added only 22,000 megawatts. Solar power panels have increased efficiency, decreased cost, and have expanded their map of most affordable option. Solar power can be decentralized so well that individual buildings and homes, even street signs, can be electrified without tying into the greater grid. Tie into the grid, and switch from being an expense to being an income. That sounds like an easy business to be in. Evidently, not.
Real Goods Solar has been in business since 1978. I knew about them back then, and have followed them sporadically since. Thirty years ago, solar was a statement. It was inefficient, but people installed systems to disconnect in comfort, to demonstrate their desire to disconnect from Middle East and corporate influences and wars, and to experiment. Real Goods was there with a mail order business that provided everything someone needed to go off the grid: solar panels, batteries, converters, regulators, efficient appliances, tools and supplies for sustainable gardening – even tiny hydroelectric systems that fit in streams. After the boom and bust of the Internet Bubble, America Online’s ex-CEO got involved in the company, there was a merger with the alternative health care and healthy lifestyle company called Gaiam during which Real Goods wasn’t emphasized, then Real Goods was spun off as a separate company just in time for the recent boom in solar power. The emphasis was on equipping businesses and municipalities in subsidized areas, with a moderate return to the off-the-grid market. Good timing, or at least it should have been.
I bought and sold at various times as the company changed ownership. Strategically, I believed the company was going to be in the right place and the right time by getting there first and waiting for the trend to catch up with and then pick up the company and the stock. Through mergers, acquisitions, spinoffs, and reverse splits my holdings have fallen 87%. I bought some during the 2008 IPO, have held most, but sold some for diversification – because it looked like they weren’t as well managed as they could be, but held because strategies can change within one meeting or revelation. At the end of 2008, their market cap was about $60,000,000. When I published my mid-2016 semi-annual review, their market cap was $3,000,000. There are houses in my neighborhood that cost more than that.
If the company was barely making any money, such a decline in the stock price would make sense. For the last three years, they’ve regularly had revenues of more than $40,000,000. In 2015, they lost $10,800,000. Something just wasn’t right in either the company or the investment community. Maybe they simply upset the wrong fund manager.
And then a few days ago, something happened. On Friday, July 15th, the stock rose from ~$3.60 to ~$5.10 on increasing volume. I expected it to fall on Monday as if some rumor turned out to be groundless. The stock rose a bit, but more importantly, it didn’t fall. Today, July 18th, it rose over 49% to close at $8.21 on over 33 times normal volume. I wonder what July 19th will bring.
I didn’t just wonder. I researched. The first source: check for press releases for news the company wanted or needed to reveal – nothing. Check news reports for news that the company may have lost control of – nothing. Check the various stock discussion boards that I frequent (InvestorVillage.com, MotleyFool.com) – nothing. Check the Yahoo stock discussion boards as a last resort because it can be like wading into a drunken college party – nothing, except one post from someone else pondering the same question. Check Twitter for the company’s newsfeed (@RealGoodStore) – and find their last post was from a year ago; and check Twitter for the stock hashtag ($RGSE) – and find a few traders speculating on the move, but without a concrete news item. And yet, the stock is up 123% in the last five days. Do that for five weeks and I’ll be a happy investor. I don’t expect that to happen – but – nah – but – well – nah. And yet, it is a sign of hope.
If they can manage to simply breakeven on their $40,000,000 revenues, and if the investment community values them at a Price/Sales of 6, then the company would be worth $240,000,000, a 65-fold increase over today’s valuation. If, if, if.
Solar City (SCTY) has a Price/Sales of 6.16 and a market cap of $2,700,000,000, proving such revenues and valuations are possible. But, Solar City has lots of news and a celebrity CEO, Elon Musk. Of course, Real Goods had their own celebrity for a while in Steve Case, the ex-CEO of AOL. I’ll save the celebrity comparisons for later.
There’s a mystery in investing in Real Goods, at least for me, now. I prefer to invest in small companies because they are easier to understand and because they can eventually become big companies with valuable stock. Small companies can also be harder to track. They have less news, can decide to only reveal what is legally required, can have management that wants to hide mistakes, and are more sensitive to upsets. Some of that is true for large companies, but in those cases there are crowds of researchers and analysts uncovering stories. That’s also why I don’t invest in large companies, the competitors within the investment world have far greater resources.
Either someone uncovered a story within Real Goods that they’re buying into, or someone is convincing others such a story might exist, or the investment community has decided some stock listing criterion has been cleared, or this is all a fluke. I don’t know. I’d like to know. Eventually, I will know.
Because of the mystery, though, I won’t be buying into the rise, won’t be buying hoping the crowd is wise, won’t be buying until the mystery is resolved, or not buying at all. Mystery changes a stock from an investment into a speculation. Since the Great Recession (or as I call it, the Second Great Depression) it seems that the small companies I am invested in are saying less. Maybe they’re hiding their successes until they are certainties. In the meantime, it feels as if my portfolio has become filled with mysteries- at least for now.