Norway: New chairman offers hope for REC


"That is the billion-dollar question, or maybe the trillion-dollar question," said Ms Berdal, elected to the chairman's seat after two years on the board of the panel maker.

"Production costs and the supply chain are improving rapidly and we are all convinced that the market will turn and it will become a profitable industry, whether that will happen this year, next year or in 2015 we don't know and the improvement will happen gradually of course."

Although revenues in the final three months of 2012 rose 12% to NOK1.65 billion ($US 305 million), the standout figure was that losses after tax ballooned from NOK452 million in Q3 to NOK1.5 billion for a full year loss of NOK5.9 billion, a negative rise of NOK1.6 billion.

Ms Berdal was quick to point out that the losses were in large part down to a NOK5.4 billion impairment from the U.S. silicon business.

"The silicon business is viable but its valuation – which was based on historical investment – could not be defended," said Ms Berdal. "If you strip this impairment out of the figures the underlying business is not so bad."

It was enough, apparently, to force the unplanned resignation of chairman Ulltveit-Moe, but Ms Berdal was quick to dismiss talk of a rift between REC‘s senior management and board.

"The chairman told the media that there were disagreements within the board and between him and management on the right way forward for REC," she explained, "but we had not really seen such a disagreement, we've had good discussions about all possible ways forward for the company."

A lawyer by profession, Ms Berdal holds a number of directorships and is chairman of Insartek ASA, which deals with critical infrastructure in Norway, Sweden and Finland.

In the press release that accompanied REC's full-year figures, CEO Ole Enger placed his faith in the emergence of new solar markets to combat the company's spiraling losses, but his new chairman said it will take more than that. "The new markets are very important but one can hardly say that will be sufficient," added Ms Berdal, "but the market will turn."

REC, in common with solar manufacturers worldwide, is depending on that happening sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg quoted REC chief financial officer Kjell Christian Bjoernsen reporting REC is in talks with its banks about changes to covenants on a NOK2 billion credit line maturing in April 2014. According to the financial news service, REC also needs to refinance a €320 million convertible bond and a NOK650 million fixed-rate note next year.

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