Lithium-ion batteries are benefiting from the massive growth in electric car production
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?
Battery Stocks to Buy: Tesla (TSLA)
Let us start with Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA). The stock fell by over 40% because its unit sales of EVs are under pressure. With government subsidies no longer supporting them, Tesla shares are underperforming.
Still, the company’s ambition extends beyond electric cars. On May 16, 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. Ultimately, TSLA stock could start turning around once the company implements the new technology. Having battery technology that is even further ahead of that offered by other automobile manufacturers could drive Tesla EV sales.
Tesla is facing a slowdown in sales of Model S and Model 3. It has a cross-over Model Y that is not yet on the market. Chances are good that both the Model Y release and new battery technology coming with it will give the stock a boost.
Energizer Holdings (ENR)
Shares of Energizer Holdings (NYSE:ENR) are stuck in a narrow trading range of between $43 and $46, though it closed recently at $47. 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 it 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.
ENR shares trade at 14 times forward P/E. 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. Revenue rose 43%, while the company issued a second-quarter revenue outlook. It now expects revenue in the range of $115 million-$125 million. This is above the $96 million analysts expected.
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.” In the first quarter, 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. Looking ahead, Enphase expects to have a capacity of 2 million microconverters by the fourth quarter of 2019. The higher supply will also cut its microinverter lead times to around 6-8 weeks.
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 at a 52-week high but may continue climbing higher following that strong earnings report.
Panasonic Corporation (PCRFY)
Panasonic Corporation (OTCMKTS:PCRFY) fell to yearly lows on no recent bad news. On May 9, the company announced that it would team upwith Toyota (NYSE: TM) to make smart homes. 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.
In January, 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 in the second quarter when it closed the sale of Power Solutions ahead of schedule. Brookfield Business Partners closed its $13.2 billion acquisition of the battery unit on Apr. 30.
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 2020.
In the second quarter, JCI’s adjusted sales grew 3% year-on-year as EPS grew 23% to 32 cents. The $5.8 billion in revenue from the Buildings unit is another bonus for holding the stock. 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.
For fiscal 2019, JCI expects adjusted free cash flow conversion topping 95%.
On the balance sheet, JCI ended Q2 with $12.15 billion in debt. The sale of Power Solutions allows the company to cut debt by $3.4 billion. It has $8.2 billion to buyback 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% this year, benefited from lithium prices rising 3% from last year. The company reported revenue of $832 million and adjusted EBITDA of $226 million. Still, the stock may have traded close to yearly lows following its EPS falling 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 2019, Albemarle expands 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. In April, 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 at 52-week lows because of the company’s disappointing fourth-quarter earnings report. Despite strong demand, SQM failed to raise output to benefit from the prevailing trends. In the fourth quarter, the company reported revenue falling 1.7% to $565.2 million.
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 and next, 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 2019, 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.