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Solar panel glut claims Day4 Energy Add to ...

Another once-promising Canadian solar power company is about to disappear from the public markets, as depressed solar-panel prices claim another victim.

Day4 Energy Inc. , of Burnaby, B.C., said Monday it will sell itself to senior managers in exchange for the assumption of debt, and it will apply to delist its stock from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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The move follows the bankruptcy this spring of Arise Technologies Corp., a Cambridge, Ont., public company that built a state-of-the-art solar panel plant in Germany but ran into trouble raising financing.

Solar cell and panel makers around the world have been struggling because of sharply falling prices caused by a glut of panels on the market.

There has been a spate of bankruptcies and insolvencies worldwide, and even some of the biggest companies, such as Germany’s Q-Cells and Arizona-based First Solar Inc. have restructured, closed plants or laid off workers.

Day4 president and chief executive officer George Rubin said in an interview Monday that the solar market has been hit by a “multitude” of problems, including overcapacity, competition from low-cost Chinese panel makers, and a decline in government subsidies in many countries, particularly in Europe.

Mr. Rubin said Day4 needs to reduce “a whole ton of costs,” and turning it into a private company will eliminate the considerable expenses of a public listing. Eventually, the industry will turn around and the lower panel prices will boost demand sharply, but that point is likely at least a year away, and perhaps much longer, he said.

In the meantime, getting Day4 back on track “is not going to be a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. The company’s revenue fell 60 per cent in 2011 to $66-million, and its loss quadrupled to $41-million.

Khurram Malik, an analyst at Jacob Securities Inc. in Toronto, said Day4 had “fabulous technology” for making solar cells, but that just doesn’t cut it when solar panels are becoming a commodity business.

Both Day4 and Arise made advanced panels at high price points, but those kinds of firms are the ones hurting the most at the moment, Mr. Malik said. “The low-end guys are the only ones getting any traction at all. It is hard to compete in that space and try to sell a premium product.”

Under the arrangement announced Monday, a private company controlled by Mr. Rubin and Day4 chief financial officer Douglas Keith will buy all the company’s business and assets. They’ll pay $500,000 and assume all of the company’s liabilities. Day4 will also apply to have its shares voluntarily taken off the TSX – although the exchange was already conducting an eligibility review of the stock.

The sale of the company will have to be approved by shareholders at the annual meeting set for June 27.

The delisting of Day4 will mark the end of public trading for a company that raised $100-million in its initial public offering in 2007, at $7.25 a share. At the time, the firm was led by John MacDonald, one of Canada’s leading entrepreneurs who had been a co-founder of space technology leader MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.

Since the time of the IPO, however, Day4 stock has been on a steady downward trajectory, and it has been trading below 10 cents a share for the past couple of months.

Day4 tried to insulate itself from some of the industry’s problems by licensing its solar cell technology to other manufacturers. But the company noted in its most recent financial statements that these clients were also hit by the problems facing the industry, and were cutting back and delaying new technology purchases.

Mr. Malik said that, by going private, the Day4 executives can “close the doors and work on a longer-term plan,” without worrying about quarterly reporting and pleasing investors. He said his firm is advising many clean technology companies thinking of going public that it is a bad idea unless they have a very strong revenue stream, and that they’re better off raising money in the private market.

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