[Editor’s note: “7 Battery Stocks for High-Powered Gains” was previously published in February 2020. It has since been updated to include the most relevant information available.]
One of the underperforming sectors in the stock market today is the battery sector. Trade tensions, higher raw material costs and global inflation are just a few of the macroeconomic headwinds that consumer discretionary stocks face.
Yet stock markets tend to over-exaggerate on the downside risks, punishing a sector on the view that things will not improve.
Fundamentally, the battery market is undergoing a major shift. Electric vehicles are driving the demand for lithium-ion batteries. Solar power panel prices plunged in recent years. This is creating a potentially higher demand for battery solutions to store energy captured from such panels.
How might investors play the battery boom led by growing electric vehicle production and a soaring number of devices needing portable power?
Let us start with Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA). The stock has doubled this year and really appears to be unstoppable.
That’s likely because the company’s ambition extends beyond electric cars. Last year, Tesla completed its acquisition of Maxwell. At a cost of just $200 million, it gains some valuable intellectual property. Maxwell is best known for its manufacturing of ultracapacitors, but it is also developing dry electrode technology for batteries.
If Maxwell’s R&D efforts pay off, the unit could bring performance enhancements for lithium-ion battery cells. For starters, Tesla could start manufacturing batteries that have an energy density of over 500Wh/kg. That would bring a 15% to 100% increase to Tesla’s current battery technology.
Informally, Tesla has the best battery technology in the auto industry. Adding Maxwell’s IP may also result in lithium-ion batteries that gain in capacity and will not lose energy after charged. Having battery technology that is even further ahead of that offered by other automobile manufacturers could drive Tesla EV sales.
Energizer Holdings (ENR)
Shares of Energizer Holdings (NYSE:ENR) were stuck in a narrow trading range of between $37.50 and $40.50 for most of last year, but to open 2020, ENR stock was on the rise, topping the $50 mark and seemingly finding support there. Of course, the March meltdown sent it right back to the $37 range.
Known best for its Energizer bunny rabbit on television commercials, the company is more than just a battery company. It has ambitions for transforming into a diversified global household products leader. This change brings along with its high goals. Energizer aims to grow adjusted free cash flow to $330 million-$370 million in 2020.
There are three goals:
1. Generating adjusted EBITDA of $650 million-$675 million.
2. Driving organic sales growth through pricing, innovation, and distribution gains.
3. Deleveraging its balance sheet to a net leverage ratio of 4 times.
Energizer bolstered its battery business by completing its acquisition of Battery and Auto Care. In doing so, the company will establish itself as a global leader while adding brands to diversify its business. It expanded its manufacturing facilities. Plus, over the past five years, it optimized its legacy factories to improve on cost and efficiency.
In its second quarter, Energizer took advantage of strong demand for its legacy batteries by raising prices. Energizer MAX and Energizer lithium product prices rose in the U.S. The company expects to complete the price hike in international markets by the end of the fiscal year.
With its consumer battery business strong and auto battery entry underway, the stock has the potential to break out of the trading range.
Enphase Energy (ENPH)Enphase Energy (NASDAQ:ENPH) surged to a new 52-week high after the company reported a strong first quarter last year and has been on a tear ever since, shooting from around $8 last February to over $50 now, even with the pandemic correction.
Enphase makes microinverters, which the company says “offer the most advanced inverter technology on the market, which means higher production, greater reliability, and unmatched intelligence.”
Enphase shipped 976,410 microinverters. The company now has 2,500 homeowners that joined its Enphase Upgrade Program. In doing so, these customers get quality and service. And strong customer satisfaction is leading to more business.
Enphase still grew revenue in the quarter despite facing component shortages in all of its regions. This implies that once the supply issues are resolved, revenue should grow at an even faster pace.
Enphase will expand its IQ7 microinverter regionally. Adding high-power and high-performance products, adding AC modules, and bringing Ensemble Solar and Storage technology will further drive revenue.
ENPH stock is near a 52-week high but may continue climbing higher following that strong earnings report.
Panasonic Corporation (PCRFY)
Panasonic Corporation (OTCMKTS:PCRFY) had a brutal 2019 and 2020 hasn’t been kind to it much yet either. But there’s some hope on the horizon.
Panasonic is already an existing partner in supplying batteries for Toyota’s electric vehicles. So with tens of thousands of homes potentially implementing a smart home, the partnership is a natural extension.
Panasonic specializes in batteries and home appliances, while Toyota started developing robots that help with household jobs.
Last year the two firms formed a joint venture for the manufacture of EV batteries. Toyota will own 51% of the venture while Panasonic will own the remaining 49%.
The companies aim to increase battery capacity by 50 times, compared to those used in current Toyota hybrid vehicles. Mazda, Subaru and Daihatsu will source batteries from this joint venture. Honda already uses Panasonic batteries but will benefit from this new collaboration.
Panasonic and Toyota will also develop solid-state batteries, which will eventually replace the lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars today. By offering a higher range at a lower cost, these new battery types could drive Panasonic’s revenues higher.
Johnson Controls (JCI)
Johnson Controls (NYSE:JCI) is the largest manufacturer of automotive batteries. The company consolidated its business this year when it closed the sale of Power Solutions ahead of schedule.
With the battery unit sold, why should investors consider JCI stock? With growth prospects in other markets, investors could get some diversification away from battery suppliers. JCI’s underlying fundamentals are strong and the company enjoys an $8.8 billion backlog. This gives it clear visibility into the rest of 2020.
Though JCI sold its battery unit, it still has institutional knowledge around the energy storage solutions market. For example, HVAC and controls rose in the mid-single digits while the fire and security unit is up in the mid-single-digit growth rate.
On the balance sheet, JCI ended 2019 with a .29 debt to equity ratio. The sale of Power Solutions allows the company to cut debt by $3.4 billion. It has $8.2 billion to buy back shares. By investing back into the company, Johnson Controls’ stock could trade at new highs in the coming months.
In the specialty chemicals space, Albemarle (NYSE:ALB), which forecast revenue rising 8%-14% last year, benefited from lithium prices rising 3% from 2018.
The company reported revenue of $832 million and adjusted EBITDA of $226 million. Still, the company’s EPS fell 5% year-on-year to $1.23.
Albemarle noted on its conference call that global sales of electric vehicles rose by almost 60%. This led to battery production rising. The company generated sales of $292 million for lithium. Thanks to a long-term agreement structure, pricing rose 3%.
For the full-year 2020, Albemarle expects sustained, strong demand for lithium. And although excess lithium carbonate from China hurt prices for carbonate, Albemarle will not compete in the same markets until pricing improves. Overall, management expects production growth of 15,000 to 20,000 metric tons and EBITDA growing in the high teens.
With the company committed to 40% margins and existing long-term contracts in place, ALB stock should not stay at yearly lows for too long.
Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. (SQM)
Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. (NYSE:SQM) is another lithium supplier. It raised its lithium outlook and said it expected sales of around 50,000 tons. The higher output is due to its operations in the Atacama salt flat.
SQM shares are still recovering from 52-week lows they touched during the March meltdown. Investors are not confident that the company will meet the demand growth led by full electric vehicle penetration levels reaching ~2%.
Still, if SQM can increase its total capacity this year, the company may eventually achieve its 180,000 metric ton output target. In the near-term, SQM will keep producing at levels about demand, accumulating inventory. In doing so, it will have more flexibility in selling in higher volume if prices and demand levels are favorable.
For the rest of 2020, SQM expects pricing levels similar to last year’s levels. Strategically, the company will not go after market share in the short-term. Instead, it expects demand in 2025 will top one million metric tons. From there, it is positioning the company to have the output capabilities to meet that demand level.
As of this writing, Chris Lau did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.