Chew noted that gross margins of 0% to 15% for Chinese solar module makers could linger through the first three quarters of 2012, meaning many companies will continue operating on a profitless basis even if they guide to higher shipments. While polysilicon, wafer and solar cell prices have rebounded from early 2012 lows, solar panel prices have not rebounded.
"The Chinese solar stocks are up an average 79% 2012 YTD, largely on growing optimism on demand stemming from Germany, the U.S., China, and the U.K. While we expect 1Q shipment guidance to be healthy and in turn possibly buoy the stocks near term, the margin outlook will be of greater importance," Chew wrote.
For U.S. solar companies, in particular, without the support of the Chinese banking system, the risk is more pronounced that assets currently receiving some value from stock investors -- even at share values lower than $1 -- will go lower yet, and ultimately be worth nothing.
Solyndra, the most high profile of all the recent solar bankruptcies, recently failed to find any buyers interested in its manufacturing operations. The valuing of bankrupt solar manufacturers so far has not supported a view that larger companies see beyond scrap value in these companies.-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.
Eric Rosenbaum. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to Eric Rosenbaum.
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