Dear Valued Visitor,

We have noticed that you are using an ad blocker software.

Although advertisements on the web pages may degrade your experience, our business certainly depends on them and we can only keep providing you high-quality research based articles as long as we can display ads on our pages.

To view this article, you can disable your ad blocker and refresh this page or simply login.

We only allow registered users to use ad blockers. You can sign up for free by clicking here or you can login if you are already a member.

LDK Solar Co., Ltd (ADR) (LDK): Death Spiral Continues

There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of bad news for LDK Solar Co., Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:LDK) lately. The company defaulted on loans earlier this week, bringing on concerns of a pending insolvency or bankruptcy, and today released some dismal earnings numbers.

LDK Solar Co., Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:LDK)LDK isn’t reporting first quarter earnings like the rest of the report on the wires; it’s reporting results from all the way back in the fourth quarter of 2012. By the look of it, things aren’t going well at all for this Chinese solar maker. Sales fell 53.4% sequentially, to $135.9 million, and net loss jumped more than five fold, to $514.7 million.

The downward trend for LDK Solar Co., Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:LDK) has been steep, and the red ink has been flowing for well over a year. You can see below that sales have cruised lower over the past year, reaching an unsustainably low level in the fourth quarter.

Q4 2011 Q1 2012 Q2 2012 Q3 2012 Q4 2012
Net Sales $420.2 million $200.1 million $235.4 million $291.5 million $135.9 million
Gross Margin -65.5% -65.5% -39.1% -11.2% -60.5%
Net Loss $564.6 million $185.2 million $254.3 million $136.9 million $517.0 million

Source: Company earnings releases. 

Solar companies have reported losses for some time now, but LDK Solar Co., Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:LDK) has more debt than most companies, and won’t be able to survive with such feeble numbers. At the end of 2012, debt stood at $2.8 billion, and we know now that the company ran out of cash just this week. There’s no way LDK Solar can survive on just $135.9 million in quarterly revenue and that kind of debt level.
A problem across solar
High debt loads and feeble margins aren’t a challenge faced by LDK Solar alone. Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE:STP) gave in to these pressures last month, defaulting on its own debt. Yingli Green Energy Hold. Co. Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE:YGE) is now the most indebted Chinese solar company, with $2.5 billion in debt, and I wouldn’t doubt if they’re not far behind LDK and Suntech. The defaults of Suntech and LDK has to be concerning for all of Chinese solar, especially if banks don’t keep the free flow of funds that have powered a rapid expansion in production.

Balance sheets matter
What’s becoming clearer and clearer every quarter is that balance sheets matter, not just for investors, but also for solar installers. Solar modules come with warranties, sometimes stretching as long as 25 years, and if a customer questions whether a company will be around in only a year or two, they may choose another option. Since Chinese modules vary very little from a performance perspective, the customer may choose a better-capitalized company like JinkoSolar Holding Co., Ltd. (NYSE:JKS) instead of Yingli Green Energy Hold. Co. Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE:YGE) or LDK Solar Co., Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:LDK), or even move to a U.S. company like First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) or SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWR) . As financial conditions get worse at these companies more and more customers leave and the problems get worse, creating a downward spiral. LDK and Suntech are the poster children for this and are a major reason investors need to stick with quality in solar.
I’ve been down on LDK Solar Co., Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:LDK) since I began predicting its failure in 2011. Investors interested in getting into the industry should focus their attention on high quality names like First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) and SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWR), who have a competitive advantage, stronger balance sheets, and are seeing margins head in a positive direction. First Solar’s move to buy TetraSun gives it a path into the commercial and residential markets along with its industry lead in the utility space. SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWR) has the most efficient modules in the industry and has the backing of Total, an oil giant with the balance sheet to make sure it can fund growth in the future.
These are two companies to look at in solar; just stay away from the likes of Suntech, LDK, and Yingli Green Energy Hold. Co. Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE:YGE). The end won’t be pretty for highly leveraged solar companies in China.

The article Death Spiral Continues for LDK Solar originally appeared on

Fool contributor Travis Hoium manages an account that owns shares of SunPower. He personally owns shares of SunPower and has the following options: Long Jan 2015 $7 Calls on SunPower, Long Jan 2015 $5 Calls on SunPower, and Long Jan 2015 $15 Calls on SunPower. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

Copyright © 1995 – 2013 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

DOWNLOAD FREE REPORT: Warren Buffett's Best Stock Picks

Let Warren Buffett, George Soros, Steve Cohen, and Daniel Loeb WORK FOR YOU.

If you want to beat the low cost index funds by 19 percentage points per year, look no further than our monthly newsletter.In this free report you can find an in-depth analysis of the performance of Warren Buffett's entire historical stock picks. We uncovered Warren Buffett's Best Stock Picks and a way to for Buffett to improve his returns by more than 4 percentage points per year.

Bonus Biotech Stock Pick: You can also find a detailed bonus biotech stock pick that we expect to return more than 50% within 12 months.
Subscribe me to Insider Monkey's Free Daily Newsletter
This is a FREE report from Insider Monkey. Credit Card is NOT required.