by Terry Macalister, Guardian
Vestas, the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturer, has spread a dark cloud over the renewable energy sector by turning a sizeable second-quarter profit last year into a $154 million (€120m) loss over the past three months.
Shares in the company plunged more than 20% on the Copenhagen stock market as analysts took fright, despite claims by Vestas that the financial turnaround was just a delayed reaction to the credit crunch, which had led to delayed orders.
Vestas, which closed down its Isle of Wight manufacturing facility last summer, said it was going to chop 600 more jobs – half of them short-term contracts – in Denmark, its home base.
The unexpectedly poor financial results come amid recent warnings from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) that the previously buoyant US wind market was in precipitous decline and desperately needed positive new policies from the White House.
The global renewable energy sector has become increasingly fearful that governments are now more concerned about cutting public spending than keeping the green energy revolution on track.
Ditlev Engel, the Vestas chief executive, said it would still proceed with expansion plans that would create 3,000 new positions in north America and elsewhere, saying the future for Vestas was still bright.
"The deficit in the first half of this year is not unexpected as the impact of the credit crunch has meant delayed deliveries to Spain, Germany and the US have not fed into the latest results. But we have now seen a major turnaround in orders and the €270m loss ($347 million) in the first half will be more than made up for by a €500m ($643m) to €600m ($772M) profit in the second half," he explained.
But Engel admitted the bounce-back in new orders was still not as strong as originally expected, so full-year earnings before interest and taxes (ebit) margin of 10%-11% had been downgraded to 5%-6% and revenues of €7bn ($9bn) had been downgraded to €6bn ($7.7).
However, Vestas has kept its long-term goals of producing ebit margins of 15% by 2015 and points out orders reached 3,031MW in the second quarter of this year, its largest in a three-month period.
Since the half year, the company has clocked up major new contracts, including its biggest single order for 570MW in America, a deal for the largest wind-power scheme in Australia, and an increasing amount of business in China.
But analysts were still shocked by a 17% fall in second-quarter revenues, and nervousness spread into the wider renewable energy sector with shares in wind turbine gearbox maker Hansen Transmissions losing 7% of their value in early trading.
Håkon Levy, a clean tech analyst at Fondsfinans in Stockholm who has a "buy" rating on the Vestas stock, described the results as very weak, adding: "The guidance reduction was far worse than expected."
The AWEA has recently warned the US government that the number of new projects being sanctioned has slumped this year under the impact of competition from lower gas prices and a lack of new subsidies. Wind projects worldwide continue to need public sector support to make them commercial, although the gap with traditional power sources is narrowing.
But the association is also concerned that Barack Obama’s inability to push through a new energy and climate change bill is also sapping confidence among investors.
The recent lack of progress in wider global climate change talks in Bonn has led to a lowering of expectations that the next summit at Cancun in Mexico can make progress after the failures in Copenhagen last December. Recent opinion polls suggest the public in many countries have become more, rather than less, sceptical about global warming in recent months.
(Republished with permission)