Chinese solar companies trim Q2 revenues, cut supply contracts amid falling silicon prices

Solar power component manufacturers in China have either trimmed their expected second quarter revenues and shipments or terminated long-term solar wafer contracts, possibly reacting from a sharp decline in prices of key solar parts reported in June.

Chinese polysilicon producer Daqo New Energy has revised its second quarter financial guidance announced on May 9, saying its earnings have been hit hard by price reductions across the photovoltaic supply chain.

The company now expects its total revenue to be around $70 million to $71 million, compared to a prior guidance range of $92 million to $95 million.

«The reduction in revenue guidance is mainly due to less shipment in the downstream product, wafer and module,» said Jimmy Lai, chief financial officer of the company.

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Daqo will ship less polysilicon in the upcoming quarter, from 950 to 1000 tons in the previous guidance down to 970 tons to 990 tons. Expected solar wafer shipments were also brought down from 7 megawatts to 0.7 MW, followed by the company’s own branded PV modules from 14 MW to 4 MW.

However, expected shipments of subcontracted PV modules for customers in the upcoming quarter were actually raised in the revised financial guidance from 2.5 MW to 8 MW.

Last week, Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd., the world’s largest producer of silicon-based solar panels terminated a 10-year solar wafer supply contract with MEMC Singapore Pte. Ltd. Dr. Zhengrong Shi, Suntech’s chairman, said the agreement will “help [the company] benefit from the continuing drop in silicon and wafer prices.”

Ending the contract will reportedly save the Wuxi, China-based company in Jiangsu province about $400 million partly from maximizing its internal wafer output.

Cloudy solar supply chain

Last month, the price of solar-grade polysilicon, the essential raw material for manufacturing solar panels that capture sunlight and convert it to electricity, dropped 28 percent to $53.4 per kilogram month-on-month, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance published on June 17 saying that the price of multicrystalline silicon wafers also slid by 23 percent in June to a record low of $2.39 a piece.

Multicrystalline silicon cell prices were down 15 percent to $0.92 per watt.

Module prices are falling at a slower rate with a 6.5 percent decline in June, bringing crystalline silicon modules to $1.68 per watt. Chinese manufacturers are offering modules at significant discounts, with prices at $1.49/W compared with modules manufactured outside of China priced at $1.79/W.

The research firm solar module prices are now 58 percent lower than in the third quarter of 2008.

Polysilicon prices along with other components began falling during the economic recession last 2009. The prices were a boon for manufacturers like First Solar, whose profits rose because manufacturing costs fell by buying cheaper parts.

First Solar is profiting because its cadmium-telluride solar cells cost less than half that of traditional polysilicon- based cells to manufacture.

In April 2009, the Arizona-based company more than tripled its first quarter profits to $164.6 million, or $1.99 a share, from $46.6 million, or 57 cents a share, a year earlier.

In comparison, SunPower, which manufactures crystalline silicon-based solar panels, saw its profits fall as a result of rising polysilicon prices. Its revenue for the first quarter of 2009 was $214 million compared to revenues of $401 million in the fourth quarter of 2008.

SunPower eventually sold a majority stake in its company to French oil giant Total.

Martin Simonek, solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in June report that prices will further decline across the solar supply chain since companies no longer supported by subsidies would look for new markets and unload their supply with lower prices.

«Currently the markets are oversupplied with modules, as manufacturers seek to reduce their inventories in markets that are demanding cheap modules because of reductions in subsidies,” said Mr. Simonek.

“Producers are preparing for a painful consolidation that could see several players exit the solar industry,» he added.

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