Who Will Win the Election: Mr. Coal or Mr. Solar?

Solar Panels

Everybody is trying to predict the outcome of the election and position their investments accordingly. Those who watch the energy industry have a keen eye on solar and coal, as President Barack Obama is expected to champion solar energy, while candidate Mitt Romney is expected to provide support to a struggling coal industry.

With memories of Solyndra still in the collective conscious, people are heading to the polls to vote for or against a sitting president who made a bad bet in a good industry — good being defined along the social axis, not the economic axis. The global solar industry has seen hundreds of its participants go out of business, while others only remain operational because of support from the government.

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Solar stocks have been performing like roller-coasters lately, trading large gains and losses on a weekly or daily basis. On election day, American thin-film solar manufacturer First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) shot up over 7 percent in the afternoon, after tanking at the end of last week on poor earnings. American industry partner SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWR), which also took a dive last week because of its earnings, climbed over 5 percent in the afternoon on election day.

Excitement about the stocks could be building around the idea of four more years of President Barack Obama in office. Obama has been extremely generous to solar companies, providing loans, tax credits, and subsidies for the industry. While he has been criticized for “picking losers,” it’s unlikely that Obama’s assistance will dry up in a second term. If he recognizes that supply-side intervention hasn’t produced the desired results and wants to scale back the stimulus, there are demand-side incentive models that have worked wonders for the solar industry in places like Germany.

Obama is likely to continue actively supporting the solar industry despite opposition from the House of Representatives, which previously passed the “No More Solyndras Act.”

Coal MiningOn the other side of the aisle, it’s well-known that Mitt Romney “likes coal.” That very phrase arguably saw a number of coal stocks sky rocket the day after he uttered it in the first presidential debate. The coal industry has also fallen on hard times, devastated by low natural gas prices and a trend toward cleaner-burning fuels.

However, in the weeks preceding the election coal stocks have surged across the board, with shares of companies like James River Coal (NASDAQ:JRCC) posting gains of over 111 percent over the last three months — and no, that’s not a typo. On election day, the stock is up over 4 percent. Other industry players like Arch Coal (NYSE:ACI) and Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE:ANR) are posting strong gains as well.

Obama is no friend of the coal industry, but the name on the other side of the ballot could very well be. Romney has declared his intention to make North America energy independent, and part of that strategy relies on coal.

Putting money in either coal or solar stocks on election day feels a bit like gambling. Whoever wins, the other stock is going to tumble on Wednesday. While neither party would spell the end of a given industry, it’s pretty clear what industry each candidate thinks is a winner.

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