Solar business drags down Applied Materials' results

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"In our fourth quarter, Applied delivered profit at the high end of our outlook despite challenging industry conditions in semiconductor, solar and display," he said, adding, "We see improving business conditions entering 2013, with orders projected to increase after bottoming in the fourth quarter." Solar watchers can only presume he had turned the page from the photovoltaic contribution to the company’s balance sheet.

The good news in the solar-related Energy and Environmental Solutions (EES) segment of the wider technology business was that orders in the division rose 86% to US$65 million in the final three months to the end of October 2012, driven by demand for Applied’s roll-to-roll deposition equipment.

Net sales in the solar business fell 19% in the quarter to $62 million for an operating loss of $46 million, in line with the non-generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) figures.

However when the usual accounting rules are applied, the solar arm of Applied Materials tell a different story and one which had an impact across the group’s figures. That $65 million of roll-to-roll orders was dwarfed by a $421 million Q4 goodwill impairment charge, imposed to reflect the "deterioration in solar equipment market conditions, our customers' financial condition and reduced market valuations, causing Applied to reassess the recoverability of the segment's goodwill".

That $421 million hit contributed to a group wide Q4 operating loss of $499 million and a net loss of $515 million over the three-month period.

Over the full year the grim returns from Applied’s solar business were little better. Orders dropped across its businesses, variously 4%; 3% and in display 57%; but EES’s 88% drop in orders to $195 million was precipitous and the same went for net sales in the 12 months, which fell 79% to $425 million on the 2010-11 financial year, compared to a 2% rise and falls of 5% and 32% from those display laggards.

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