This may be a dramatic statement to make about the world’s most valued solar company but there are several reasons which I will explain below to illustrate this point. Note the solar industry is in a league of its own in the astonishing drop it solar panel prices (80% price drop over the last 3-4 years) and the rapid increase in demand (60% CAGR over the last 10 years).So the comparison and analysis by your usual stock hacks on financial portals like Motley and Seeking Alpha is way off the mark. First Solar had the worst 2 quarters in its history in 2011 as it went from a record breaking profit company into the red. Many issues which were hidden by its past success came out in the open and some of them are life threatening. Here are these problems
China which is home to the biggest solar industry in the world and most of the top solar panel manufacturers has decided to lower subsidy in 2012. Note China did not pass a Feed in Tariff Law for a long time as prices of solar energy remained high. But after a massive crash in solar prices and energy in 2011 it passed a FIT law in late 2011 to take advantage. This resulted in a big jump resulting in China becoming one of the top 5 markets in 2011 . Now China is set to become one of the top 3 markets in 2012 if not the biggest . This is due to the fact that other European solar panel markets are rapidly reducing subsidies and China needs to support its solar companies many of which are effectively insolvent like LDK.
China’s solar market growth has hit the rocket phase in late 2011 with the announcement of the long awaited national Feed in Tariff . Many of the Chinese utilties have set up large solar farms utilizing the cheap solar panels produced by Chinese solar panel companies. Note Chinese solar companies are the dominant players in the world having almost killed the western solar industry in the last couple of years. With cheap costs and massive government support, China is almost ruling the solar industry globally . In the domestic Chinese market they have even a bigger advantage given the local home conditions and preference of domestic companies . Note China become home to the biggest wind turbine companies when China enacted the domestic content requirements in 2006. With the solar industry , the Chinese government does not need this law as its companies already possess massive advantages over the foreign competition.
The massive solar panel glut has not only caused Western solar companies to go bankrupt but has also caused mayhem in the Chinese solar panel industry.Many of the smaller companies have seen their utilization go down to 35% or lower with many of the others shutting down their production entirely.There are hundreds of small solar companies in China which started during the 2010 boom when global solar demand increased by more than 150% . However their small scale of operatoins and lack of brand power means that they are bearing the brunt. While the large Chinese solar panel producers have seen their utilization go down , most will survive given the support from Chinese Banks. For example LDK despite its more than $3 billion in debt and losses is still getting loans from Chinese Development Bank. But the smaller Chines OEM panel makers don’t have the government sugar daddy behind them.
Pakistan is a energy deficit country like most other South Asian countries with inadequate investment in the electricity sector and the distribution infrastructure.The cause of the energy crisis in the country is due to massive corruption and misgovernance , a theme which will be familiar to citizens of India as well.Pakistan has been looking at investments from the Chinese power companies in the hydro and wind sectors to boost electricity generation.However these investments take time and some may never come to fruition.However Pakistanis are now turning towards cheap Chinese solar panels to beat the high electricity tariffs and dependence on expensive diesel generators and UPS systems.
Note Chinese companies too would have shut down but the state owned Chinese banks are keeping them alive with loans at ridiculous interest rates.LDK which is buying Sunways is almost insolvent as well with its convertibles trading at less than 50c on the dollar in Singapore.It has more than n$3 billion in debt compared to its market cap of around $600 million.It faces massive losses in the coming qtrs and can’t serve the interest payments much less expand.The strong support of the Chinese government for its green companies is keeping them alive.Chinese solar panels have become super cheap due to companies selling at below cost and massive scale.Note all the cheap solar panel brands in the world are Chinese with the exception of First Solar and some Asians.
LDK has managed to spend 22 million Euros despite burning hundred of millions of dollars in cash because it has got the Chinese government trillions backing it.So while Western companies burn and crash,the big crony Chinese companies can expand and acquire.
Most of the German solar manufacturing industry is finished and it is unlikely that except a couple of them like SM Solar or Wacker will live to see 2013.Q-Cells too should go bankrupt or get consolidated .Note despite European companies shifting factories to Asia ,they just can’t compete.Some of the smaller module makers with 20 MW plants have seen huge losses with the equipment not selling for 10 cents on the dollar