SolarWorld cashes in on nuclear fears

GERMANY - SolarWorld, Germany's No.2 solar company by market value, sees higher sales this year and next, taking heart from a strong U.S. market and a boost to the renewable industry following Japan's nuclear crisis.

The renewable sector has seen a massive surge since a 9.0-magnitude earthquake caused a nuclear crisis in Japan and governments around the world pledged to speed up switching to renewable sources of energy.

Since March 10, SolarWorld shares are up almost 30 percent, outperforming gains of other sector bellwethers such as Suntech, First Solar, Renewable Energy Corp REC and SMA Solar.

"Japan is experiencing a disaster of biblical proportions. It shows that we need to pull out of nuclear power and make sure that renewables supply all our energy needs," Chief Executive Frank Asbeck said at the company's annual press conference, adding the crisis would boost the green sector.

SolarWorld said that it expected 2011 sales to exceed the level of 2010, when the company generated 1.305 billion euros US $1.84 billion, and added it also expected sales to rise further in 2012. It gave no profit outlook for 2011.

In Germany, the world's biggest solar market, the nuclear crisis has already led to a shutdown of several nuclear plans in the country and the government is set to shore up the renewable sector.

"We are dealing with politics so it's too early to conclude what will actually happen, but I believe it's fair to say that this event is so big that it could possibly have very big long-term impact," said Jon Sigurdsen, renewable fund manager at DnB Nor Group unit Carlson.

Asbeck, who owns 27.8 percent in SolarWorld, had told Reuters already last month that sales would rise this year, but refrained from giving further details at the time.

Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S estimates show that SolarWorld's revenues are expected to grow by more than 13 percent to 1.477 billion in 2011, while 2012 sales are seen at 1.62 billion.

The solar industry — which still depends on government subsidies — had been battered by changes in subsidy legislation in Germany and Italy, the world's No.1 and No.2 markets.

SolarWorld, however, benefits from strong growth in the United States, particularly in California, and the company is aiming to raise its share of revenues outside of Germany to 75 percent in the next two years, with the United States as the biggest market.

According to Thomson Reuters StarMine, SolarWorld trades at 13.4 times estimates 12-month forward earnings, a slight discount to Q-Cells, REC and First Solar, but higher than SMA Solar and Suntech.


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