Recession Opportunities: Green Investing

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For those with some money to invest, and an appetite for a little risk, it's easy being green.

The green industry, which not long ago was “getting hugged to death" by investors (at least according to one financial analyst), is very much in growth mode, despite an overall volatile investment atmosphere in 2009.  The country’s millionaires recently agreed, in a new Fidelity survey, that “green tech,” along with health care and infrastructure, are the few sectors they’d like to invest in over the next year to prop up their beaten-down portfolios.  

True, the astronomical returns have, for many green-related stocks and funds, subsided.  First Solar (Stock Quote: FSLR), a poster child for the potential of green stocks, jumped almost 800%, from $28 per share to $250 per share between 2007 and 2008.  Since then it’s made it way south to $200 per share.

That might be a little pricey for some, but with the Obama administration actively pushing for alternative energy sources and green initiatives, there are some investment opportunities for folks who want to do right by Mother Earth.

What Makes an Investment Green?
A “green” investment carries many shades. It may describe a company that tries to help lower toxic emissions into the atmosphere or reduce demand for natural resources.  Think Toyota (Stock Quote: TM) with its hybrid vehicles or Honda (Stock Quote: HMC) and its new hydrogen fueled cars, which minimize the demand for oil. 

In other cases, “green” means improving the quality of life, by “simplifying and encouraging folks to somehow have a smaller footprint,” says Andrew Bengle, senior research analyst with KLD Research & Analytics.  A restaurant that uses only locally raised crops is an example of that, since it doesn’t need to use large gas-guzzling trucks to transfer ingredients across state lines.  Green may also mean promoting a healthier lifestyle by manufacturing, selling or using all natural and organic ingredients like grocery chain Whole Foods (Stock Quote: WFMI) does. 

Of course no investments come without risk and green stocks are still considered speculative, as most companies in this niche are relatively young and small. Depending on your capacity for risk and what particular aspect of the green movement you like, you can choose to play in a variety of directions within the sector, from individual stocks to mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.  The funds and stocks mentioned below are by no means recommendations. But if you’re in the market for green investments, these picks might help as you conduct your own research:

Green Mutual Funds
Green mutual funds are designed for the risk-averse investor who is convinced green is good, but may not want to allocate much to an individual stock. Instead, with these funds you can invest in a broad range of stocks, usually 30 to 40, for one price.  The stocks chosen for a particular fund usually cater to a particular segment of the sector or a certain risk-strategy.

Winslow Green Growth Fund (Stock Quote: WGGFX)
Investment type: A no-load mutual fund whose portfolio is a mixed bag of high-growth “smaller, riskier companies,” according to Morningstar, a fund ratings agency.
What they do that's green: “Green" to Winslow means promoting healthier lives, plain and simple. Some of the highest-growth players in the fund include Green Mountain Coffee (Stock Quote: GMCR), Chipotle Mexican Grill (Stock Quote: CMG) and Fuel-Tech (Stock Quote: FTEK).
Numbers at a glance: The fund hit its peak in October 2007 at $28 per share. Since 2008 the fund’s been on the decline and is now trading around $10 per share.

The Alger Green Fund (Stock Quote: SPEGX), formerly called the Spectra Green Fund.
Investment type: The portfolio invests at least 80% of it assets in stocks with any market capitalization, and carries a front-end load fee of 5.25%. The fund received three out of four stars from Morningstar.
What they do that's green: According to the fund’s managers, they choose to invest in growth companies that conduct business in a “socially responsible manner.” Top holdings include Microsoft (Stock Quote: MSFT), Wal-mart (Stock Quote: WMT), Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) and Google (Stock Quote: GOOG).  Sound weird? Even giant companies are joining the green bandwagon, experts say. “These companies have pressure on them, as well, because have more products,” says Brengle. “The IBMs and Googles of the world are looking into ways to increase the efficiency of their products and services.”
Numbers at a glance: The fund is down 40% from a year ago.  According to a Morningstar report, the Alger Green Fund is “well-diversified across sectors, making it an option for green investors seeking a domestically focused core fund.”

Green Stocks
If you want more skin in the game, there are a number of beaten-down green stocks covering all types of niche categories under green investing.  For any of these stock investments it’s important not to buy into any hype, experts say.  Think long-term. After all, remember ethanol?

“The bottom line is, how cheaply do these stocks deliver meaningful energy?” says John Villarreal, who’s consulted several green tech companies over the years in Silicon Valley, Calif.  “Investors are looking closer at fundamentals.”

Here are a couple of stocks within niche areas of green: wind and solar.

Broadwind Energy (Stock Quote: BWEN)
Investment type: Stock
What they do that’s green: They supply wind energy services and products, such as gears for wind turbines, to the energy sector within North America.
Numbers at a glance: The stock is about 75% off its 52-week high, trading around $7.50 a share.  Wind made up more than 40% of all new electricity generation installments in the U.S. last year.

Suntech Power (Stock Quote: STP)
Investment type: Stock
What they do that’s green: They design and manufacture solar products for homes, commercial buildings and power plants.
Numbers at a glance: Trading at $16.44, more than 60% off its 52-week high. TheStreet.com Ratings' model rates Suntech Power as a “hold.”


Green ETFs
What if you want the best of stocks and the best of mutual funds? Exchange-traded funds offer the diversity of mutual funds but the  liquidity of stocks, so they can be bought and sold on the market during the day.

PowerShares Wilderhill Clean Energy Portfolio (Stock Quote: PBW)
Investment type: Exchange-traded fund.
What they do that’s green: This fund usually invests a majority of its portfolio in clean energy companies like Air Products & Chemicals (Stock Quote: APD) and Quanta Services (Stock Quote: PWR).
Numbers at a glance: A wildly popular fund a couple of years ago, is currently trading at roughly $10 a share, down more than 60% from it 2007 peak of $28 per share.

Van Eck Global Alternative Energy ETF (Stock Quote: GEX)
Investment type: Exchange-traded fund.
What they do that’s green: The fund is made up of about 30 companies worldwide from First Solar to Vestas, that generate at least 50% of their sales from alternative energy applications.
Numbers at a glance: It’s trading at $25 per share, more than 50% below its 52-week high.

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