China solar giant Suntech falls back to Earth


To go with China-US-solar-company-distress-Suntech,FOCUS by Bill Savadove
This picture taken on February 27, 2012 shows workers assembling solar panels on the factory floor of Chinese company Suntech in the eastern Chinese city of Wuxi. China’s Suntech has made a painful journey from being the world’s largest solar panel producer to flirting with bankruptcy in just a year, highlighting the woes of the industry it shaped. AFP PHOTO / Peter PARKS

SHANGHAI—China’s Suntech has made a painful journey from being the world’s largest solar panel producer to flirting with bankruptcy in just a year, highlighting the woes of the industry it shaped.

Oversupply as Chinese producers flooded the market and trade disputes over alleged Chinese dumping caused a sudden and spectacular reversal of fortunes for Suntech, which has defaulted on repayments for a $541 million bond issue.

The board ousted the company’s renowned founder just days ago after 12 years in which he led it from nothing to world market domination and now to the edge of ruin, leaving it scrambling to secure new funding and hold creditors at bay.

The global solar industry has been burned by the economic slowdown in Europe and the United States, together with weak prices blamed on Chinese companies which sought to build market share by under-cutting competitors.

The European Union and United States last year targeted Suntech and other Chinese solar panel and cell makers, accusing them of selling their products at below cost and receiving “unfair” government subsidies.

Suntech, a private company, denied the allegations but made no secret of its aim to keep prices at rock bottom, which it said made solar energy available to more people.

Analysts said Suntech’s business model, deliberately pushing down prices to capture larger market share despite narrower profit margins, contained the seeds of its own destruction.

“What (Suntech) has done is increase supply to the market so much, that they really almost can’t sell anything at a profit now,” said Ben Cavender, associate principal of China Market Research Group (CMR) in Shanghai.

Suntech recorded a net loss of $1.0 billion in 2011, from a profit of $237 million in 2010, according to company filings. The firm has yet to report financial results for 2012.

Once an investors’ darling, its New York-listed shares have plunged from a high of $90.00 in early 2008. They closed down 7.81 percent at $0.59 in New York on Tuesday.

“It is going to be difficult for them going forward,” Cavender added. “You might end up seeing a very different company down the road.”

Suntech said earlier this month it would shut a manufacturing plant in the United States in a bid to “rationalise” production capacity.

China’s National Business Daily on Tuesday quoted an official in the eastern city of Wuxi, where the firm is headquartered and employs 14,000 people, as saying it would undergo restructuring under bankruptcy proceedings.

Analysts said Suntech faced a problem common to Chinese private firms, growing rapidly in the country’s economic boom but becoming unwieldy and unmanageable as it turned into a vast corporation.

“Suntech, as a private firm, went too fast in its expansion,” said Liu Wenping, a partner in Shanghai-based solar investment consulting firm Sapphire Capital.

“The founder, with the role of scientist-entrepreneur, didn’t have the experience to manage such a big company with tens of thousands of workers.”

Suntech’s founder Shi Zhengrong—listed as one of China’s richest people by the independent Hurun Report last year, worth $476 million — was ousted as chairman earlier this month. He called the move “misconceived and unlawful” in a statement, vowing further action.

While more than 60 percent of Suntech’s bondholders have given the company a two-month extension for payment, some are planning to sue to recoup their investment, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

The default could cause foreign investors to sour further on China, after a string of accounting scandals involving Chinese firms listed in the United States and other overseas markets, analysts said.

US equipment giant Caterpillar recently revealed that it had found fake accounts at a Chinese firm it acquired for more than $650 million last year, in another cautionary tale for foreign investors in the hugely promising market.

“Looking at a Chinese company as a potential investment, you really have to be a little more cautious… and decide whether the investment looks as good as it does on paper,” said Cavender of CMR.

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  • Molly Cruz

    So we succeeded in crushing a worthy competitor. We should also nationalize efforts to gift ourselves with clean energy. I call this a tragedy and I bet the dirty, poisonous energy companies we are all so fond of are behind it. The problem with solar energy, like organic baby diapers; is that no one can afford it.

  • nazar_agawin

    My guess is that Suntech did not take into account government regulation in their business model. The equipment cost for solar panel which includes combiner and inverters already amounts to USD 2000/kW as against conventional power generating sources which is only USD 500/kW. For this investment to be viable feed-in-tariff (FIT) from government is needed. In economic parlance, the elasticity curve of price versus demand has a constant which is government FIT, and that is something difficult to control. In layman’s terms, even if how low Suntech sell its panels but without government support,
    their come a point where there is a bottleneck in the market.
    power consultant

  • ThudOthwacker

    China railways are in deep trouble too. Plus the 65 million vacant housing units. Debts to GDP ratio is around 90% to 160%.

    The cookie is starting to crumble. That’s what you get from over assertive, overbearing and uber greedy society.

  • zymygy

    this is bad karma for them.they want the whole china sea and muscling small countries like vietnam and philippines.the latest news i read are pigs have an infestation there and there are more to come.

  • generalproblem

    all chinese compnay are like that. they will all fall.

  • i_am_filipino


  • Gibo

    A high cost of solar panel will not encourage use of renewable energy. A 150USD worth of solar panel for 100W is expensive enough for household use.

  • MarcialA

    Ok in US sell it higher but in developing worl sell it low price

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