Meyer Burger sees another bruising year ahead

Switzerland’s Meyer Burger undercut the “initial signs of a market recovery” it sees by forecasting another nasty sales drop this year, with its PV manufacturing customers in no shape to invest in new production equipment any time soon.

Meyer Burger, among the world’s leading PV toolmakers, turned in a 2012 operating loss of CHf135.4m ($143.4m), compared to a surplus of CHf116.7m the year prior.

Revenues plummeted from CHf1.32bn in 2011 to CHf645.2m last year – and the company predicts sales of just CHf400m in 2013.

Sharp as Meyer Burger’s 2012 sales decline was, however, it was proportionately less severe than across the broader PV production-equipment sector, which includes rivals like Centrotherm, Applied Materials and GT Advanced.

Industry-wide revenues for PV toolmakers fell to $3.6bn last year from a record-high $12.9bn in 2011, according to market researcher NPD Solarbuzz.

In response to its sales decline, which Meyer Burger flagged up early last year, the company is shrinking its headcount – down 22% to 2,200 people last year – and consolidating its global footprint, after a multi-year period of expansion and acquisition.

Among the companies Meyer Burger has swallowed in recent years are Switzerland’s 3S Industries and Germany’s Roth & Rau.

Its recent consolidation efforts mean that Meyer Burger’s “break-even” point has fallen to CHf500m, the company says.

Solarbuzz believes it will take the PV industry at least three years before its spending on production equipment returns to the 2011 level – a prediction with potentially serious consequences for technological evolution in the industry.