Thursday, September 22, 2011

"How Did Solyndra Spend All That Money?"

That is one of the three big questions for tomorrow's hearing, the other two being why did they build a brand new building in a weak commercial real estate market and how real were the sales that the company touted as totalling $2 Billion in backlog?

The officers have informed the committee that they intend to exercise their constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination.

From the Atlantic:
I'm still trying to wrap my mind around just how much money Solyndra managed to spend in just two short years.  By my count, Since September 2009, they borrowed $535 million from us to get their second fab up and running, raised $219 million in a private equity offering, got $175 million from issuing convertible promissory notes after their IPO was pulled, received $75 million in the last-ditch round where the DOE allowed their seniority to be subordinated, and maybe got a loan from a different bank.  By the time they filed bankruptcy in August, my understanding is that they were basically out of cash.

The Washington Post's rather scathing new account, full of employees saying that post-loan, Solyndra started spending money like it was about to be discontinued, says the new facility for which we loaned them all that money cost $344 million to build.  So it seems that in the space of two years, Solyndra managed to spend $344 million building a factory and $660 million . . . doing what?

I asked a hedge fund/private equity friend of mine if the burn rate is as crazy as it seems.  These were his thoughts:
Trina Solar in their last conference call talked about average selling price per watt dropping from $1.71 to $1.46. A 15% drop. That's almost certainly a wholesale price as Trina doesn't sell to end users. Since then (August 23rd, a month ago), a hedge fund blogger named John Hempton has found retail prices of AUD$1.30 (USD$1.27) per watt. (see here).

So pricing is down about 25% in a little over a year.

A lot of this is due to China and Chinese companies like Trina Solar. Here's a NY Times piece from late 2010: "But as the companies finally begin mass production -- Solyndra just flipped the switch on a $733 million factory here last month -- they are finding that the economics of the industry have already been transformed, by the Chinese. Chinese manufacturers, heavily subsidized by their own government and relying on vast economies of scale, have helped send the price of conventional solar panels plunging and grabbed market share far more quickly than anyone anticipated. "...MORE