Political solar games could help China's LDK

If China imposes tariffs on polysilicon, the main raw material in solar panels, the company will be able to sell its output at higher prices.

By Trefis May 28, 2012 11:22AM
TrefisImage: Solar energy (© Mick Roessler/Corbis)The Chinese government has said that it is "highly concerned" about the recent imposition on tariffs of up to 250% on its solar export by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Some of the voices in the industry expect the Chinese to react with retaliatory tariffs, potentially targeting polysilicon imports. Chinese polysilicon producers have faced problems as global prices of the commodity have fallen and small producers have struggled to stay afloat. LDK Solar (LDK) has ramped up its polysilicon production capacity over the past few years and will increase capacity even further in 2012.

Although the tariffs by the U.S. Department of Commerce will have a negative impact on LDK's cell and module business, if China imposes tariffs on polysilicon, the company will be able to sell its output at higher prices in the local market. Polysilicon is the main raw material for panel manufacturers like Suntech Power (STP).


We have a $3.67 price estimate for LDK Solar, which is at a 30% premium to its current market price.


LDK's capacity push


LDK plans to increase its polysilicon production capacity from 17,000 MT a year at the beginning of the year to 25,000 MT a year by the end of 2012. According to the plans, LDK could increase production capacity even further over the next couple of years. The rise in production capacity comes at a time when spot prices are below the operating cost for most players.


Smaller Chinese polysilicon producers have faced difficulty in competing with large-scale producers based outside the country, and government officials have discussed the possibility of introducing tariffs to protect the industry. The tariffs from the U.S. government on Chinese solar equipment could provide a push for the Chinese government to implement counter-tariffs on polysilicon imports.


LDK Systems and Other Revenues

LDK had an average polysilicon selling price last year of $56.4 per kilogram, which fell around 6% from a year earlier. This is almost double the prevailing spot price for polysilicon in the market. Players like LDK sell a huge proportion of its output through long-term contracts, which were signed when prices were higher. However, if Chinese authorities put import tariffs on polysilicon, an increase in product price in the local market could push up LDK's revenues from the business, helping the company tackle the downturn.


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