Polysilicon giant Wacker to put 700 on short-time working

Wacker Chemie, the world’s second-largest supplier of PV-grade polysilicon by most measures, will place as many as 700 workers on short-time until next spring as it waits for its wafer customers to rekindle production.

The short-timing will occur at Wacker’s principal chemicals plant in Burghausen, in the German state of Bavaria, according to reports.

The immense polysilicon upgrade Wacker opened earlier this year at Nünchritz will apparently be unaffected, and construction continues apace at its facility in Tennessee, US, which is slated for completion in late 2013.

Despite the precipitous decline in polysilicon prices over the past four years – the chief driver of falling PV prices – most of the world’s leading producers remain profitable, given their capacity and technology leads over smaller, newer rivals, many of them in China.

Wacker is considered one of the “big four” polysilicon producers, alongside OCI, Hemlock and GCL-Poly – with Norway’s REC not far behind.

Despite seeing revenues at its polysilicon unit slide 28% in the second quarter to €286.8m ($370m), Wacker’s polysilicon business remains profitable.

The spot price of PV-grade polysilicon has fallen from nearly $500/kg in 2008 to nearly $19/kg today – its lowest level in more than a decade.

Ironically, the fall has prevented many recent Chinese entrants from gaining traction, as they largely failed to scale-up production in time for the price crash.

LDK Solar is producing polysilicon at roughly double the spot price, and has acknowledged that a long-touted floatation of its polysilicon unit may be permanently spiked if an ongoing technology upgrade does not catapult it into a position competitive with the big four.

Most analysts believe polysilicon prices will continue to ease downward until mid-2013 and then bottom out at around $18/kg, by which time the supply-demand dynamics of the global PV industry are expected to be in a healthier alignment.

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