CEO-interview: An important step forward19-06-13
Mr. Asbeck, what does restructuring mean to SolarWorld?
Everyone contributes: Our creditors must accept that approximately 55 percent of the debt will not be repaid, but rather converted to stock. Our shareholders must accept that their existing shares will only account for 5 percent of the company. A strategic investor from Qatar is willing to invest approximately € 35 million in the company. I myself will be making a private investment of about € 10 million after the devaluation of my shares. And all of our employees continue to work with tremendous motivation on new products, further cost reductions and continuous quality improvement.
And everyone will get something for this:
We will be repaying our creditors – secured and according to a fixed repayment schedule – approximately 45 percent of existing debt. This is much more than the market value of the bonds today, for example. Thanks to the strategic involvement of investors, our shareholders will again have a perspective with a company viable into the future. SolarWorld will remove the burden of its debts and can again assume the role of technology and industry leader. And we are systematically passing our cost reductions on to our customers.
What steps are necessary to implement that?
Our holders of assignable notes, that is, the banks, have already approved the concept. On July 8 and 9, our noteholders will vote on the concept. If the participation of 50 percent is not achieved, at least 25 percent of the noteholders must be represented later at a new meeting. The General Meeting must in turn vote on the concept for the capital reduction. We would be finished after that.
What makes you so certain that you will receive the required approval?
According to this plan, everyone gets more than they would if SolarWorld were to fail, and the noteholders will also receive significantly more than the current market value of the bonds. With the conversion of the debt to shares, we are also enabling a write-up if the value of the stock rises again in the future. The banks have already agreed because the offer is very fair considering the market situation.
How do you view the future of the company?
If the concept is implemented in this form, we can start off strong immediately. SolarWorld is Europe's and America's largest solar manufacturer. We are leaders in almost every area of technology. This company can achieve great things on the globally growing market for solar power systems, and for the solar world.
The EU Commission has now imposed a preliminary duty on Chinese solar products, in the first stage 11.8 percent, thereafter 47 percent. Did you expect that?
Yes, because you can't tolerate dumping. Chinese dumping has already destroyed too many companies and jobs in Europe's solar industry. The European Commission determined in its regulation that Chinese companies are selling far below their own manufacturing costs. The first duties are now taking effect. From August 6, a 47 percent duty will be placed on Chinese modules. This will stop the dumping and we can restore fair competition to the solar market.
Supposedly a trade war now threatens.
Three years ago, China actually started a trade war. Since then, the government has subsidized sale prices below the manufacturing cost. This doesn't have anything to do with trying to support clean energy. This is about creating a monopoly and then charging monopoly prices. What the European solar manufacturers have done is simply to insist that international law be followed, and that dumping is opposed. We only want applicable law to be followed.
The Intersolar, the largest solar trade fair in the world, begins on Wednesday in Munich. How will SolarWorld present itself there?
SolarWorld has always relied on research and development. We have produced the Sunmodule Protect range, the new glass-glass module, at our Freiberg production plant since May 2013. You won't find a more durable solar module which is both so light and has such robust workmanship and with a performance guarantee over a 30 year service life. We are also offering our new storage battery. It is already our third storage generation, and even more powerful and less expensive.
A point of great interest: Will your customers have to expect increasing prices after the duties are implemented?
No, we are continuing to lower our costs. And, as every year, we will also reduce our prices accordingly. But we don’t cut corners when it comes to quality. Just in time for the trade fair, we are introducing our new premium product Sunmodule Protect at the previous price of the standard module. And beginning immediately, we have lower prices for the standard module. But one thing we won't be doing: Unlike China, we are not selling under manufacturing costs. No market-oriented company can do that. Only a state economy can do that, and I'm happy not to live in one.
The German market is now no longer the most important PV market worldwide. Which new markets does SolarWorld have to enter now and in the medium-term?
Even in the past we were never limited to the German market – in contrast to other German manufacturers. In particular the United States play an important role. There, as in Europe, we are the largest manufacturer of solar technology. The European market is greatly weakened after the distortions caused by dumping and political subsidy cuts. But here, too, things go on, for example in France, Italy and Benelux, where we are strong. We are also active in Africa and Asia. In Japan we are now selling more than ever before.