Suntech shares fall amid board row
Updated: 2013-03-07 11:54
By Xie Yu in Shanghai and Yu Wei in New York (China Daily)
New York-listed shares of leading Chinese solar-panel maker Suntech Power Holdings Co fell 3.3 percent to $1.17 at the close trading on Wednesday, following a dramatic change in the company's management.
The shakeup disclosed on Monday involves the replacement of Shi Zheng-rong as executive chairman with Susan Wang, currently a member of Suntech's board of directors. Shi, who founded the company in 2001, will remain as a director and the chief strategy officer.
Shi, who Forbes magazine in 2008 named the wealthiest man in China with a net worth of $2.9 billion, called the board's decision "misconceived and unlawful" in a statement issued on Wednesday.
In a response, the Suntech board said it was "confident that the appointment of Susan Wang as chairwoman to replace Dr Shi Zhengrong is valid and effective under the law of the Cayman Islands", where the company is incorporated.
Shi owns 29 percent of Suntech's shares, according to a recent filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Cheng Peng, a partner with Beijing-based Adfaith Management Consulting, said of the statement: "Shi's latest move shows the internal conflict within Suntech is rather fierce."
The company's board, Cheng said, might operate better with Shi out as chairman, improving the chances for agreement between municipal officials in Wuxi, the Jiangsu province city where Suntech is based, and investors and lenders over how to turn around the troubled company.
Pointing out the company's importance to the local economy, the analyst said: "No doubt the Wuxi government will help it avoid bankruptcy, by introducing capital or subsidies."
Suntech, one of the best-known and biggest makers of solar panels in China, has been hit hard by shrinking demand for its products since the European Union and the United States imposed anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs against the company and other Chinese manufacturers last year.
Orders for Chinese-made photovoltaic solar equipment slumped 80 percent in 2012 from the previous year, the China PV Industry Alliance said in a recent report. Up to 90 percent of Chinese producers of polysilicon, an ingredient used in panel production, halted their output, while 80 percent of solar-panel makers shut down or sharply reduced production, the industry group said.
Suntech stock is listed in Paris but also trades in the form of American depositary shares on the New York Stock Exchange. After hitting a high of $9.43 in March 2011, their value has been on a nearly two-year decline, due to the tariffs and depressed prices in overseas markets from oversupply of electricity-generating solar gear.
In 2012, the company received a delisting warning from the NYSE and has requested a bailout from the Wuxi government.
Japanese investment firm Nomura said it was maintaining its "reduce" rating on Suntech stock, explaining that the company's cost structure remains 10 percent to 20 percent higher than its direct Chinese competitors, resulting in weak profitability and loss of market share.
The company has a $541 million convertible-bond payment due on March 15. Analysts said it would be impossible for the company to make the payment given its current cash crunch.
Some media reports have said that Shi refuses to use his own stock in the company or other assets as collateral.
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