Europe’s long solar trade battle with China appears to be over for the time being, and China got the upper hand once again. Solar import tariffs of 11.8% put in place in June won’t be replaced by tariffs that average 47% for most manufacturers, but will instead be replaced by a price floor.
According to early reports, 90 of China’s 140 exporters will be covered under an agreement to set a price floor of $0.74 per watt for solar panels. Other manufacturers will face the old tariff deal, but they don’t appear to represent a significant percentage of the supply. Also, the price is not significantly higher than modules are already going for in Europe. Chinese modules are selling for around $0.65 per watt both in the U.S. and Europe, so it’s an increase but not a back breaker.
The effect on Chinese solar stocks
To put the price floor into perspective, Yingli Green Energy Hold. Co. Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE:YGE) had an average selling price of $0.67 per watt in the first quarter. The price increase would amount to about 11% under the new plan.
The good news for Yingli Green Energy Hold. Co. Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE:YGE) and other manufacturers is that this will likely widen their margins a bit in Europe. The company had a gross margin of just 4.1% last quarter, so the price floor could increase that to about 14% in Europe. Trina Solar Limited (ADR) (NYSE:TSL) also gets a large percentage of revenue from Europe, and will see an increase in its 1.7% gross margin when the new rules go into effect.
The bad news is that European and non-Chinese manufacturers will now be more cost effective. Even a few cents is important in solar these days, so now things like efficiency and quality will come into play more than they did when Chinese manufacturers were competing just on cost.
It’s important to remember that the only change from two months ago is that Chinese panels will have a higher price. So, companies such as LDK Solar Co., Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:LDK) , who were trying to compete on price alone, will likely be left in the dust. Investors should focus on higher-quality manufacturers like Yingli Green Energy Hold. Co. Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE:YGE), Trina Solar Limited (ADR) (NYSE:TSL), and Canadian Solar Inc. (NASDAQ:CSIQ) as potential winners from the negotiated solar deal.
The question is whether or not this will help bring these companies to a profit? For Canadian Solar Inc. (NASDAQ:CSIQ) and Trina Solar Limited (ADR) (NYSE:TSL), it just might, when combined with high margins in Japan.