Solar Manufacturers May Have a Rough Quarter


The market for solar is growing around the world but one of the biggest names in solar is already saying that the second quarter won't be the big turnaround the industry is hoping for. Trina Solar (NYS: TSL) said yesterday that its shipments and margins would be below previous expectations.

In the updated guidance for the second quarter (which ended a month ago), the company said it shipped between 390 MW and 420 MW, lower than its old guidance of 500 MW-520 MW. Gross margin is now expected to be between 7% and 9% instead of the 10% it had previously thought.

There are three things that could be driving Trina's disappointing numbers, and likely a bit of each is affecting it. The first impact is a price war that is going on among solar manufacturers around the world. Companies at the bottom of the food chain have likely been even more aggressive with pricing as they have become more desperate. This would include the usual suspects like LDK Solar (NYS: LDK) , Renesola (NYS: SOL) , and Hanwha SolarOne (NAS: HSOL) . These companies have added capacity and have unsustainable debt loads, and since their products are considered inferior to top-tier manufacturers they must battle on price.

The second thing likely impacting sales is a major shift in demand around the world. Europe is struggling, meaning the U.S. and Japan will provide two of the best markets for solar this year. In the U.S., SunPower had by far the largest market share in the first quarter according to GTM Research. Chinese firms will be hurt further by import tariffs here. Trina isn't yet a major player in the U.S. market, but Suntech Power and Yingli Green Energy (NYS: YGE) have significant share in the U.S. so they may not be as heavily affected by markets shifting away from Europe. In Japan, the market is just starting to grow and local manufacturers will be the first to benefit.

The last thing I will be watching closely this quarter is the effect quality and efficiency is having on financial results. SunPower managed to beat most Chinese manufacturers in gross margin in the first quarter because if has higher efficiency and makes a bankable module. If the trend of efficiency mattering more than cost continues it could be impacting all Chinese manufacturers.

Earnings will begin rolling out next week so we'll get a better feel for how the quarter played out and how the market is trending in solar at that time. For now, we know that it wasn't as good as Trina Solar had hoped.

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Fool contributorTravis Hoiumowns SunPower in both personal and managed accounts. You can follow Travis on Twitter at@FlushDrawFool, check out hispersonal stock holdingsor follow his CAPS picks atTMFFlushDraw.The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.

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