MEMC Shares Plunge - TheStreet

SAINT PETERS, MO. (

TheStreet

) --

MEMC Electonic Materials

(WFR)

is down 12% on Thursday morning after its after-market earnings from Wednesday.

MEMC had equaled its average daily volume of 5.5 million shares traded within the first 90 minutes of the market open on Thursday morning.

Early commentators on Wednesday's after-market earnings report said semiconductor and solar manufacturer

MEMC is sending mixed signals in its latest numbers.

Oppenheimer & Co., Piper Jaffray and Collins Stewart all put out research notes indicating that the MEMC results would not be enough to rally the stock. While some analysts are reserving judgment until after MEMC completes its investor day in New York City on Thursday, investors were clearly bearish on the stock on Thursday morning.

The MEMC acquisition of SunEdison is one of the

biggest bones of contention between the Street and MEMC, as analysts are still trying to comprehend the logic in the deal -- especially after SunEdison contributed an operating loss to MEMC in the fourth quarter of $10 million. The fear is that MEMC's strong balance sheet will be dragged down by the need to finance the expensive SunEdison large-scale, and lower gross margin, solar projects.

MEMC's fourth-quarter net loss was $7.1 million, compared with a net income of $70.3 million, or 31 cents per share, a year ago.

Net sales fell 17% to $352.9 million during the fourth quarter, but were up 14% sequentially from the third quarter.

Some investors at the MEMC meeting seemed to be scratching their heads at just about everything MEMC-related.

TheStreet

received one comment from an investor participating in the MEMC investor day, asking, "Why is MEMC CEO Chatila making 'midget' jokes in this morning's Capital Markets Day presentation? Really?"

What's more, the MEMC earnings may have helped trigger a down day for solar stocks. Through the first three days of the week, solar had rebounded nicely from its two-week selloff, and the solar stocks seemed to be stabilizing mid-week.

Solar investors have been looking for a big fourth quarter from solar companies. However, every solar company was down on Thursday morning, and to an extent greater than the technology sector's early 1.5% decline. The biggest early losses were

JA Solar

(JASO)

and

Canadian Solar

(CSIQ) - Get Report

, down close to 5% on Thursday morning.

MEMC's earnings were the second of the solar earnings season, and were in contrast to the earnings surprise from

GT Solar

( SOLR).

GT Solar was up more than 6% on Wednesday after it beat estimates, though GT Solar was down close to 3% early on Thursday.

MEMC gross margins of 14.7% in the fourth quarter beat some Street estimates, as problems at MEMC's Pasadena plant in the third quarter took gross margins all the way down to 6.6%.

Net sales for SunEdison during the period from November 20 through December 31 were $3.8 million. Gross profit was $1.1 million, or 28.9% of net sales. Operating expenses for the period were $11.5 million, and operating loss for the period was $10.4 million. During the period, 13 megawatts were installed and interconnected, with the majority of the associated revenue and profits to be recognized in future periods, MEMC said in its earnings release.

Analysts were encouraged by short-term pricing strength in semiconductor wafers and volume growth, but still seemed to be at a consensus hold on MEMC, due to SunEdison, and concerns regarding solar wafer pricing.

Collins Stewart noted that SunEdison contributed to a decline in net cash per share from $5.40 at the end of the third quarter of 2009 to just $2.84 at the end of the fourth quarter of 2009. Net cash has been a key asset supporting WFR's shares over the past year, Collins Stewart said.

--Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.

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