North Coast Solar Stocks

November 16, 2009

Cheap Solar: Plunging Silicon Gives Asian Solar Companies an Edge, HSBC Says

Filed under: LDK, STP, TSL, YGE — Tags: , , , , , — Jason @ 10:37 am

By Keith Johnson
wsj.com

Solar prices have already collapsed, but they still have plenty of room to keep falling. That’s actually good news for the industry—and for Asian solar-power companies in particular, HSBC says in a new report.

Thanks to the glut of polysilicon, prices for solar-power modules have collapsed, falling 50% over the last year, the bank says. Since there’s still a supply glut, prices will keep falling—another 20% by the end of 2010.

The bad news, such as it is, is that falling prices squeeze margins at lots of solar companies, slamming share prices and forcing layoffs.

The good news is that as solar power gets cheaper, demand should pick up after a terrible year. HSBC figures that cheaper silicon makes solar power only two to two-and-a-half times more expensive than traditional power sources, compared with five to six times more expensive just a year ago.

That should spur rapid growth, consolidation, and scale economies—all of which could push the cost of solar power even lower. HSBC renewed its forecast of solar grid parity in some big markets by 2013.

The other big effect of cheaper silicon prices is that it makes the cost of silicon less important and other costs more so—giving an advantage to Asian solar-power players who enjoy advantages in things like labor and manufacturing costs.

HSBC says: “We estimate silicon will account for one-third of module costs by 2011, down from more than two- thirds in 2008. As a result, we believe leaders in downstream non-silicon costs will enjoy higher market share, better margins or both.”

For the investment bank, that means that companies such as Trina Solar (TSL) and Suntech Power (STP) are becoming more attractive. The bank initiated coverage on Trina at “overweight” and upgraded Suntech to “neutral” from “underweight.”

Less attractive? Yingli Green Energy (YGE) and LDK Solar (LDK), both burdened by in-house silicon production. HSBC downgraed Yingli to “underweight” from “overweight” and reiterated LDK’s “underweight” rating.

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