NPD Solarbuzz: Applied Materials could lose equipment supplier top spot in 2012

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Lean pickings in the PV equipment sector in 2012 could lead to a shakeup in the equipment supplier pecking order, according to the latest report from NPD Solarbuzz. Having relinquished its number one spot in the semiconductor industry last year – the first time in several decades – Applied Materials could also lose its leadership position in the PV industry which has been a 14-quarter reign since 2008.

According to the market research firm, Applied Materials is expected to be overtaken in the revenue stakes in the first-half of 2012 by Meyer Berger, which is due to Meyer Burger consolidating a significant part of Roth & Rau’s 2011 PV revenues during the second-half of last year and a strong deferred backlog accumulated by the end of 2011.

Meyer Burger recently reported it had achieved CHF 876.8 million of new orders in 2011, down from CHF 1,329.8 million in 2010. The order backlog at the end of 2011 was CHF 909.9 million, down from CHF1,048.5 million at the end of 2010.

On the other had, Applied had noted in February 2012 that new PV sector-related orders were down 62% to only US$33 million, while sales of US$207 million in the fourth quarter of 2011 were down 34% on the prior quarter.

But the real challenge comes from GT Advanced Technologies (GTAT), according to NDP Solarbuzz, which also has the largest order backlog within the sector. GTAT said in February 2012 that its recent new orders had pushed its order backlog to US$2.2 billion.

GTAT’s PV backlog is dominated by CVD reactors for polysilicon expansions, which have investment phases that are not directly tied to c-Si ingot-to-module and thin-film spending cycles and therefore the revenue generation is not in-sync with the likes of its rivals. This would mean that GTAT could end the year with the highest revenue in the equipment supplier sector, while Applied could potentially slide into second or third ranking position in 2012.

In the latest NPD Solarbuzz PV Equipment Quarterly report, the market research firm is projecting a recovery in equipment spending in 2013. The rebound in spending is expected to be led by a select group of tier 1 manufacturers placing equipment orders that are expected to start in the second-half of 2012.

The restart in new order placement with suppliers is not based on market growth expectations due to low utilization rates because of over capacity, but as a result of expected drives by certain PV manufacturers to address market-share aspirations for 2013 and beyond, according to NPD Solarbuzz.

The market research firm said that as a result of new orders the PV book-to-bill ratio is expected to return above parity in the second-half of 2012.

“Capacity taken offline is just one reason why PV equipment suppliers are planning for future growth,” noted Finlay Colville, vice president at NPD Solarbuzz. “Tier 1 manufacturers are also choosing to run existing production lines at reduced utilization rates during 2012, while increasing the level of outsourced wafers and cells. This is helping to restore a healthier supply-demand balance to the PV industry, thereby removing the underlying deterrent holding back the release of new CapEx.”

The market research firm said that PV equipment revenues (covering c-Si ingot-to-module and thin-film) for the first quarter of 2012, declined to US$1.75 billion, a 10-quarter low, down 27% on the prior quarter and 51% year-on-year.

The good news for the equipment suppliers is that NPD Solarbuzz expects the bottom in spending to have been reached in the second quarter of the year, having followed a downward spiral for six quarters.

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