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If you are thinking about green energy for your portfolio, Al Gore has a few words of advice: “Don’t do it.”
“Of course he does not say that in public,” says Bill Gunderson, president of Gunderson Capital Management. “Gore’s company still talks about how alternative energy is a good investment. How companies are adopting it, governments are subsidizing it and people are using it.”
But SEC filings from Gore’s company, Generation Investment, tell a different story, says Gunderson, who hosts a nationally syndicated financial talk radio program and writes for MarketWatch and TheStreet.com.
“Generation Investment says it is all about climate change, but it is just a typical investment fund with typical stocks,” Gunderson said.
“It has Amazon, Colgate Palmolive, eBay, Nielsen, Qualcomm, Strayer University and a smattering of stocks from biotech and health care. Not one company that makes solar panels, or windmills or biogas or electric cars. Catheters and commercial real estate, yes. Solar panels, no.”
Which is good, because the so-called clean tech sector has been a terrible investment for at least two years, Gunderson said.
First Solar, America’s largest maker of solar panels, was one of the few pure climate-change stocks Generation Investment had in its portfolio. And it was a disaster.
In the summer of 2010, Generation Investment bought about 440,000 shares of First Solar, worth almost $65 million
Gore bought near the peak.
As the price of First Solar plunged from $141 in 2010 to $30 in the first quarter of 2012, Gore’s company kept throwing good money after bad, buying more and more stock until its investment in early 2012 totaled about 1.12 million shares worth about $28 million dollars.
Generation Investment sold it soon after, SEC records show.
Generation Investment also has private investments and investments in other alternative energy companies that it is not required to disclose to the SEC.
Among the companies listed in the “private and confidential client update” from Generation Investment are SMA Solar, the largest solar company in Germany. Its value has gone down 57 percent over the last year.
In China, Generation Investment said it had an investment in the world’s largest solar panel manufacturer, SunTech. The stock has gone down 82 percent over the last year.
Also in the portfolio are EcoSynthetix, Landi Renzo and Meyer Burger, which have lost 60 percent, 25 percent and 49.6 percent respectively over the last year
In Gunderson’s newsletter and on his radio shows, he told his listeners and clients to “sell everything under the sun” and he was shorting First Solar at $121 in May 2011. Gunderson repeated this to the Toronto Globe in December 2011.
“I don’t blame Gore for getting out of alternative energy,” Gunderson said, “even if he did it too late in the case of First Solar.
“But when is he going to tell people that alternative energy is a lousy investment?”
One of Generation Investment’s larger clients is the New York public employees pension fund. It has received $30 million in fees since 2009, said the New York Post. Gore also invests for the California teachers public employee union pension fund.
Neither Gore, Generation Investment or the New York public employees pension fund would discuss the details of their purchases.
“Everyone in alternative energy knows their goose is cooked because subsidies are going down, and so is the price of oil and natural gas if we are allowed to drill for it here,” Gunderson said. ‘”But if you want to have energy in your portfolio, there are plenty of American stocks producing traditional energy that are doing just fine.”