As usual, I missed some important items in last week's roundup, so let's take a quick look at those before we get to this week's happenings.
I recently told you about a study that projected a dip in solar demand this year. Blogger Ed Gunther, whose solar investigations are just top notch, pointed out a new report by Solarbuzz that sees growth of 5%, to 6.37 gigawatts. This consultancy's data set may be more robust, so don't count on a decline in 2009.
Also noteworthy is that Norway's REC topped Suntech Power (STP) in the module efficiency league tables. The firm, working in conjunction with a Dutch research center, hit the 17% mark last Friday. It was only August that Suntech was boasting of world-leading 15.6% conversion efficiencies. It's great to see the pace of innovation running at such a brisk clip.
Alright, enough about last week. JA Solar (JASO) was the star of the show on Monday and Tuesday, running up furiously on heavy trading volume. The cell-maker's trio of tidings (notably released after Monday's close) included increased quarterly guidance, a bold outlook for 2010, and the institution of a share repurchase program. At $75 million, the program amounts to 8% of the present market capitalization. Relative to rapidly expanding outfits like ReneSola (SOL), this company has kept its share count under control. This buyback program may be a bit late (shares have run up from the $4 level in less than three weeks), but could come in handy if the shares get socked again.
Apparently this was a week for milestones. Yingli Green Energy (YGE) announced on Tuesday that it had hit a gigawatt of total solar module production. First Solar (FSLR) stole their thunder a bit by announcing that it's built and shipped over a gigawatt of modules this year alone!
The thin-film kingpin came back the next day with guidance for 2010, plus news of a major capacity expansion. The forecast was notable in that it went beyond the usual sales and margin figures, and it included free cash flow guidance. Free cash flow is a rare commodity in this capital-consuming industry. With such a robust financial profile, it's no surprise that First Solar is comfortable expanding its current capacity by nearly 50%.
LDK Solar (LDK) was the downer of the week, announcing both the sale of a small stake in its polysilicon business and an equity offering to help address its "liquidity problem." The shares tanked almost 15% yesterday and continue to plummet today.
This cash crunch should surprise absolutely no one. The firm's huge working capital deficit led me to warn last month that LDK is a speculative security, suitable for stock daredevils only. Do you believe me now?
Author's Disclosure: No Positions in any stocks mentioned.