Total, the French oil and gas giant, already owns 60 percent of America's SunPower, the leader in photovoltaic panel efficiency. As a nice Christmas present and in what seems a vote of long-term confidence in the solar industry, Total upped its stake by 6 percent at a cost of $163.7 million, according to a Bloomberg article. Total paid $8.80 per share, a 50 percent premium above the Dec. 22 closing SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) share price.   

Total SA is Europe’s third-largest oil producer. (While we're on the topic of oil companies, note that BP Solar, the solar group within British Petroleum, exited the solar business last week after decades of production, due to declining margins.)

SunPower's stock was down 1.3 percent to $5.92 on Tuesday. The firm has a market capitalization of $593 million.

SunPower went out and bought itself a nice present with its holiday money. SunPower agreed to acquire Tenesol, a subsidiary of Total SA, for $165.4 million in cash that puts all of Total's solar assets under one roof. Tenesol builds and installs solar panels with manufacturing facilities in France and South Africa. Tenesol had revenue of $313 million in 2010 and expects revenue of approximately $261 million in 2011, according to SunPower.

The deal looks like a wash and was part of the original agreement between Total and SunPower. Here are some stock analysts with less-than-favorable opinions of the transaction.

SunPower, along with First Solar, was one of the first solar panel manufacturers to aggressively pursue utility-scale projects and to develop its own solar parks.
 
When the Total deal was initiated in April, Shyam Mehta, senior solar analyst at GTM Research, noted that the deal is likely more about project development and solar power plants than solar panels.

"They have the second best -- if not the best -- track record in the industry" for project development, he said. The $1 billion line of credit, if exploited for power plants, could give SunPower a huge advantage over competitors like First Solar. The cost of capital is a substantial consideration in these projects, and Total can get access to large amounts of capital at lower rates than standalone solar companies.

Having Total as a potential financier will also potentially help SunPower circumvent the often-arduous search for money and partners on particular projects.

"SunPower is one of the few solar companies that is actually a technology play and not a commodity one," Mehta added.

Tags: finance, pv, solar, solar power, spwr, sunpower, tenesol, total, utility-scale solar