Sizzling hot: Solar stocks set to end pandemic year at record highs

(Reuters) - Solar stocks dazzled in 2020 and looked set to wrap up a year ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic with triple-digit gains amid a shift in focus to ‘clean energy’ as the outbreak decimated the global oil industry.

FILE PHOTO: Arrays of photovoltaic solar panels are seen at the Tenaska Imperial Solar Energy Center South as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in this aerial photo taken over El Centro, California, U.S., May 29, 2020. REUTERS/Bing Guan

Giving the rally a leg up was Joe Biden’s victory in the November U.S. presidential election, along with the coronavirus aid and funding bill that extended solar tax credits by two years.

The credits have helped reduce the cost of solar projects, and the extension pushed shares of solar equipment makers Enphase Energy Inc, ReneSola Ltd and Canadian Solar Inc, among others, to record or multi-year highs.

Years of disappointing shareholder returns by the oil and gas industry, this year’s pandemic and the clean energy push have encouraged investors to move their money out of traditional industries and into renewables, said Josh Sherman, partner at consultancy firm Opportune LLP.

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For an interactive graphic on solar stocks versus S&P 500 Energy index, click here

The coming years could be even better for the U.S. solar industry, and industry research firm IBISWorld estimates total revenue could cross $19.4 billion in 2026, more than double this year’s $8.23 billion.

Top solar trade group Solar Energy Industries Association and energy research firm Wood Mackenzie forecast U.S. solar installations will surge 43% this year, just shy of a pre-pandemic forecast, highlighting the industry’s quicker-than-expected recovery from a virus-related slowdown.

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Stocks are expected to extend their rally too, and Sherman said investor appetite will only increase next year as the solar industry ramps up infrastructure.

Underscoring the trends, leading brokerage J.P. Morgan hiked its price targets across the board for renewable companies on Dec. 23, bumping its target on solar equipment maker Solaredge Technologies Inc to $371 from $315.

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“I don’t think you can put that cork back in the bottle,” Sherman said, adding the outlook for the industry is very strong for the near term.

Reporting by Shariq Khan in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila