LED market downturn GTAT expansion stepping on the brakes

Abstract After the historical decline of the photovoltaic industry, the US new energy equipment company GTAT (GT Advanced Technologies, referred to as "GTAT") originally hoped to play a role in the sapphire crystal furnace business. Can be helpless in LE...
After the historic decline in the photovoltaic industry, the US new energy equipment company GTAT (GT Advanced Technologies, referred to as "GTAT") originally hoped to play a role in the sapphire crystal furnace business. However, in the case of the continued sluggish LED market, sapphire substrate manufacturers lack continuous driving force to expand production capacity, and GTAT is getting worse.

In response to weak demand in the market, GTAT recently announced that due to weak demand in the Asian market, it will lay off about 25% of its employees, and its third-quarter revenue may be at the lowest expected level.

As of March 31, 2012, GTAT had a total of 460 employees and contractors in the United States and 203 employees in Asia. GTAT said it will lay off employees in the United States, the proportion of layoffs is about 20%, and the proportion of layoffs in Asia is about 30%. GTAT expects to save approximately $13 million annually through layoffs.

In addition, the company plans to integrate the existing business unit, photovoltaic, polysilicon and sapphire into a division, named Crystal Growth Systems.

Obviously, the GTAT train that is driving at high speeds in the past year is slowing down to ensure a smooth crossing of the winter.

The market continues to be depressed

The first culprit to the deterioration of GTAT's financial position was the solar photovoltaic equipment business.

Since the beginning of this year, the spread and deepening of the European debt crisis, especially the anti-dumping and countervailing duties imposed by the United States and Europe on China's export of photovoltaic products, has made the domestic photovoltaic industry "instantly" into a cold winter.

This downstream downturn is also quickly transmitted to upstream equipment manufacturers. Data shows that GTAT's revenue for the third quarter of this year was US$110 million, down 58.16% year-on-year, a slight decrease from US$167.3 million in the second quarter; net profit was US$2.3 million, down US$36.9 million in the third quarter of 2011, down 93.77 year-on-year. %.

Like the photovoltaic industry in the cold winter, this year's global sapphire substrate market is also experiencing a sustained downturn.

Despite the recent enthusiasm for backlight and lighting demand, but because chip manufacturers strictly control raw material inventory, and the traditional off-season of the LED industry at the end of the year, sapphire substrate prices still do not see the opportunity to callback.

According to Cheryl Diuguid, vice president and general manager of GTAT's sapphire materials and equipment division, the company's current business share in Asia accounts for 94%, and the eight major customers of the sapphire business are from Asia, with six Chinese customers.

The reporter randomly investigated several companies that had previously purchased the GTAT sapphire crystal growth furnace. It was generally said that there was no expansion schedule for the follow-up. Jiangsu Jixing New Materials Co., Ltd. is one of the GTAT customers. The company's deputy general manager Cai Jinrong said: "This year, I dare not easily expand production, and the market is still very poor."

According to industry insiders, “temporary seizures” has become the strategy of most sapphire substrate manufacturers in China. Affected by this, GTAT sapphire crystal furnace orders also began to decline sharply in the third quarter of 2011.

Data show that in the second quarter of 2011, GTAT sapphire crystal furnace orders reached a record high of $ 776.8 million. Since then, the order amount has been falling all the way. As of the third quarter of 2012, the order of GTAT sapphire crystal growth furnace has dropped for four consecutive quarters.

At the same time, only a handful of GTAT sapphire crystal growth furnace customers are in mass production, and crystal products have not been widely used in the Chinese market.

According to a survey by the reporter, more than 90% of the sapphire substrates used in several major extension plants in China are not from GTAT customers.

As a new entrant, whether the crystal grown by the GTAT crystal growth furnace can be recognized by mainstream extension manufacturers is still unknown.

At the same time, the reporter saw a speech from the GTAT CEO who posted an excerpt from the blog titled “Don't See the Digest of the Day” in the beginning of 2012. One of the words caught our attention:

“If our sapphire products are not accepted by the market, the prospects for the company's sapphire business will be very limited.”

“Although we believe that ASF furnaces have the advantage of growing sapphire, there are other competitors on the market who use this or that process to grow sapphire. Competing with our technology, they are likely to have better cost performance and produce high quality and large Diameter cylinders. These competitors include industry veterans or newcomers who are attracted by LED prospects."

“At the same time, other companies may start to supply sapphire growth furnaces. If competitors develop or buy the same or even better technology, they can produce high quality, large diameter sapphire materials, or the furnaces they offer are more cost effective. Our business, financial condition and business results will be materially and negatively affected."

Order cancellation risk

In July 2010, GTAT acquired the US sapphire producer Crystal Systems and began to enter the LED industry. Sapphire materials and crystal growth furnaces were once one of the main sources of new orders.

As of July 2, 2011, the cumulative total order for GTAT sapphire crystal growth furnaces and systems totaled $952.5 million, including orders for nearly $800 million in sapphire crystal growth furnaces seized in the Chinese market.

According to the third quarter earnings report released by GTAT this year, the company's backlog of orders continues to be maintained. Data show that as of the end of the third quarter of this year, the company's backlog of orders still reached as high as 1.5 billion US dollars. These include $618 million in polysilicon equipment, $141 million in photovoltaic equipment, and $718 million in sapphire equipment.

"Most of the enterprises that have been put into production this year will basically choose a small amount of expansion or even no expansion next year. Therefore, orders for equipment that have been signed may not be fulfilled or postponed. For enterprises, the equipment deposit is much smaller than the loss after capacity expansion." Zhang Hongbiao, research director of the High-tech LED Industry Research Institute, said that it is estimated that many orders for sapphire crystal growth furnaces have been delayed or even cancelled.

It is not impossible to cancel an order. Previously, a Chinese PV manufacturer terminated orders for polysilicon equipment with GTAT, which also caused GTAT to make a $56 million impairment charge in the third quarter of this year. "The market is so bad now, who will buy a crystal oven," said Sheng Jianming, CEO of Jiangsu Tongren Electronics Co., Ltd. The risk of the crystal growth furnace equipment manufacturer is that the order completion cycle is longer after the company purchases the equipment. When the market is in a long-term downturn, orders may be cancelled at any time.

At the same time, the pressure of GTAT is also derived from the growing producer of crystal growth furnace equipment in China.

According to statistics from the High-Tech LED Industry Research Institute (GLII), in the past year, only 20 domestic manufacturers of off-line crystal growth furnaces have been announced. This does not include GTAT's competitors in overseas markets, such as ARC Energy.

“Price changes from competitors, rising promotional discounts, new product emergence and other factors will cause a negative impact on the company’s operations.” GTAT explains sapphire in its annual report. A paragraph of the risk that the business is currently facing.

Perhaps GTAT has realized the potential risks of simply selling crystal growth furnaces in the LED field, and has therefore begun to “plan” the possibility of expanding the market in other areas.

On September 23, GTAT announced that it has received an order for a $19 million ASF crystal furnace from an existing customer in China, which will be used for the mobile device market. GTAT believes that the opportunity in the sapphire mobile device market will bring a large number of ASF orders to the company in the second half of 2013.

For the application prospects of sapphire materials in the field of mobile devices, the person in charge of the related technology of Yuanliang Technology told reporters that the mobile phone panel and the lens cover are both double-throwing, especially the mobile phone panel requires high-intensity illumination to check the flash particles. , bubbles and clouds, and can not have any foreign objects, this aspect is actually much higher than the requirements of LED substrate materials. In addition, the mobile phone panel and the lens cover sheet have the requirements of compressive strength, which is highly demanding for the single crystal of the material.

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