Roth & Rau takes loss as SpectraWatt bankruptcy looms

Roth & Rau takes loss as SpectraWatt bankruptcy looms

German PV equipment maker Roth & Rau has reported its first full-year operating loss since going public in 2006, with much of the blame falling on the likely insolvency of its US customer SpectraWatt.

Despite seeing sales and orders surge in 2010 as expansionary fever gripped the global PV industry, Roth & Rau swallowed an operating loss of €25.9m ($35.7,m) on a handful of sour deals where it had intended to build turnkey cell factories for customers.

The loss compares to an operating profit of €16.1m last year, and includes a €12.1m hit attributable to the likelihood of insolvency at SpectraWatt, a spinoff chipmaker Intel.

In December SpectraWatt shocked the sector by revealing plans to lay off more than 100 employees – nearly all of its workforce – and close its cell factory at IBM’s Hudson Research Park in New York state. Only recently, the company had indicated to the media and local officials its intention to balloon its headcount as it ramped production to 60MW.

SpectraWatt issued only a small statement at the time, saying the move comes in response to “deteriorating market conditions resulting from a harsher-than-usual European winter causing a large drop-off in demand for solar cells”.

The statement came as a headscratcher, as Europe installed a record-smashing 13GW of PV capacity in 2010 – with a disproportionate amount put up in the final months of the year.

SpectraWatt’s announcement came a month before US wafer maker Evergreen Solar revealed plans to close its factory in Massachusetts and shift the bulk of its production to China. Like Evergreen, SpectraWatt has received grants worth millions of dollars from various local, state and federal departments, as the US struggles to keep home-grown PV manufacturers afloat.

Saxony-based Roth & Rau was also hit with an apparently fizzled-out order from an Indian customer and several turnkey projects in Spain, and says it is modifying its business to focus more heavily on single-equipment sales, as opposed to turnkey lines.

Despite its loss, Roth & Rau notched up sales of €268.9m in 2010 – a one-year hike of 36%. Buoyed by Asian demand, its order book has swelled to €335m from €204.8m at the end of 2009.

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