Analysis: Solar companies to seek deep pockets in downturn

Tue Dec 6, 2011 2:24pm EST
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By Matt Daily and Nichola Groom

(Reuters) - Struggling solar manufacturers will likely be driven into mergers with rivals to survive a sector squeeze, a trend that could draw major Asian conglomerates deeper into the renewable energy sector.

Solar makers have seen their profit margins nearly erased this year as prices for renewable energy systems plummeted by about 40 percent and industry experts say many companies are too small to withstand the downturn on their own.

Market experts have named China's Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd STP.N, Trina Solar Ltd TSL.N and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co Ltd (YGE.N: Quote) as good bets to survive the current slump, as well as U.S.-based First Solar Inc (FSLR.O: Quote) and SunPower Corp (SPWR.O: Quote) and Germany's SolarWorld AG SWVG.DE.

But former sector leaders from Germany, such Conergy AG CGYGk.DE, Q-Cells SE QCEG.DE, Solar-Fabrik AG SFXG.DE and Sunways AG SWWG.DE may be threatened, analysts at Swiss bank Sarasin said recently.

Many U.S.- and German-based makers have been among the hardest hit and a handful of high-profile bankruptcies have tarnished the industry's image, including the collapse of Solyndra, whose demise after receiving more than $500 million in U.S. funds triggered a political backlash in Washington.

Still, many China-based companies, which produce the majority of the global supply of solar panels, are also suffering, as heavy debt threatens their survival.

China's state-run banks opened billions of dollars in credit lines to the industry there and helped drive a proliferation of companies that now number in the hundreds.

Most are small producers that appear to be selling modules - or the wafers and cells used to build modules - at a loss, creating a huge oversupply of products that pressures prices across the global supply chain.   Continued...