What's Next for American Solar Manufacturers?

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Seven American solar panel makers are filing a trade case on Wednesday against top competitor China. High price competition undercuts American solar's profit margins and has already led several large companies including Solyndra and Evergreen Solar to file for bankruptcy.

The trade complaint, filed at the Commerce Department, accuses the Chinese industry of profiting from heavy government subsidies and "dumping" its products in the United States at prices that undercut American producers.

According to the trade complaint, Chinese state-owned banks have extended nearly $41 billion in loans and lines of credit to the country's solar panel manufacturers. The complaint asks the government to impose tariffs of more than 100%.

The New York Times likens the case to Detroit automakers taking on Japanese producers in the 1970s and 1980s, but similarly, an American win may not translate into business success. Like the Japanese automakers who circumvented legislation and tariffs by simply building factories on U.S. soil, Chinese solar companies have already begun to do the same.

Setting up solar panel factories is a relatively quick process, taking anywhere from six months to a year depending on the task it is designed for. For example, many Chinese solar power manufacturers may find the initial steps, including the production of a polysilicon wafer, cheaper to do in China before shipping to the U.S. for final production.

Industry analysts warn the consequences of the trade complaint will only accelerate the Chinese manufacturers expansion into the United States. It can also lead to Chinese retaliation. According to The New York Times, "the country might, for example, shift more of its hefty annual purchases of solar panel manufacturing equipment to German suppliers instead of American ones."

These shipments to China total nearly $2 billion in raw materials and equipment every year. Tom Zarrella, a former chief executive of GT Solar, said the loss "would be a travesty for the solar industry."

A significant Chinese solar presence in the United States could be good news for American solar consumers who will find themselves with a more diversified solar panel market. And according to the Times, such demand "could benefit American consumers of solar power if it helps propel the technology beyond its current niche status."

In all, American solar companies will have more difficult times ahead of them despite what many believe is a sure win in the case against Chinese producers.

Interested in following the trend? Here is a list of the two largest U.S. solar companies trading on the stock market to keep an eye on, as well as China's three biggest solar power companies. (Click here to access free, interactive tools to analyze these ideas)

1. First Solar (NAS: FSLR) : Market cap of $4.51B. Manufactures and sells solar modules using a thin-film semiconductor technology. Country of Origin: U.S. Share price as of Oct. 21 at $53.19. The stock is trading 11.82% below its 20-day MA, 33.03% below its 50-day MA, and 56.54% below its 200-day MA. The stock is a short-squeeze candidate, with a short float at 34.58% (equivalent to 7.31 days of average volume). It's been a rough couple of days for the stock, losing 7.99% over the last week.

2. SunPower (NAS: SPWRA) : Market cap of $906.54M. Designs, manufactures, and delivers solar electric systems for residential, commercial, and utility-scale power plant customers worldwide. Country of Origin: U.S. Share price as of Oct. 21 at $9.18. The stock is trading 7.21% below its 20-day MA, 18.8% below its 50-day MA, and 43.27% below its 200-day MA. This is a risky stock that is significantly more volatile than the overall market (beta = 2.15). The stock is a short-squeeze candidate, with a short float at 6.79% (equivalent to 10.02 days of average volume). The stock has had a couple of great days, gaining 9.17% over the last week.

3. LDK Solar (NYS: LDK) : Market cap of $468.81M. Engages in the design, development, manufacture, and marketing of photovoltaic products and development of power plant projects. Country of Origin: China. Share price as of Oct. 21 at $3.07. The stock is trading 6.17% below its 20-day MA, 33.13% below its 50-day MA, and 64.39% below its 200-day MA. This is a risky stock that is significantly more volatile than the overall market (beta = 2.78). The stock is a short-squeeze candidate, with a short float at 18.53% (equivalent to 7.69 days of average volume). It's been a rough couple of days for the stock, losing 6.57% over the last week.

4. Suntech Power Holdings (NYS: STP) : Market cap of $385.54M. Engages in the design, development, manufacture, and marketing of photovoltaic products. Country of Origin: China. Share price as of Oct. 21 at $2.09. The stock is trading 11.25% below its 20-day MA, 45.13% below its 50-day MA, and 71.22% below its 200-day MA. This is a risky stock that is significantly more volatile than the overall market (beta = 3.06). It's been a rough couple of days for the stock, losing 10.08% over the last week.

5. Trina Solar (NYS: TSL) : Market cap of $510.50M. Designs, develops, manufactures, and sells photovoltaic modules worldwide. Country of Origin: China. Share price as of Oct. 21 at $7.26. The stock is trading 4.83% above its 20-day MA, 30.13% below its 50-day MA, and 65.23% below its 200-day MA. This is a risky stock that is significantly more volatile than the overall market (beta = 3.2). The stock has lost 71.99% over the last year.

Interactive chart: Press Play to compare changes in analyst ratings over the last two years for the stocks mentioned above. Analyst ratings sourced from Zacks Investment Research.


 

At the time this article was published Kapitall's Rebecca Lipman does not own any of the shares mentioned above. Data from Finviz.The Motley Fool owns shares of First Solar. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of First Solar. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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