Solar losses weigh on Applied Materials

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While a number of global solar players are enjoying a welcome resurgence after the dark days of 2012, the performance of its solar division continues to weigh on the figures of U.S. semiconductor manufacturer Applied Materials.

Whilst orders, net sales and operating income rose across Applied’s Silicon Systems Group (SSG), Applied General Services (AGS) and Display divisions; the Energy and Environmental Services (EES) business – which includes solar along with glass coating and web coating – posted a $30m operating loss for the fourth quarter.

That deficit came on the back of a 2% quarterly drop in net sales to $44 million and despite a rise in orders to $40 million.

For the 2013 fiscal year, which ended on October 27, the EES division was again the only one of Applied’s four businesses to register a loss, and a hefty one at that, the $433 million shed by the division including $278 million of impairment charges in the second quarter and a further $40 million lost through impairment, restructuring and acquisition items.

Net sales plunge 59%

For the full year, the EES division saw a 15% drop in orders to $166 million and an alarming 59% fall in net sales to $173 million, with the parent company blaming an ongoing overcapacity in the global solar market.

The fact Applied Materials is describing its planned merger with Tokyo Electron as a move to create a $29 billion innovator in ‘semiconductor and display material technology’ says much about how little it wants to focus on its solar business at present.

The fate of Applied Materials’ solar business, and the larger EES division, could be uncertain once the merger is complete and the inevitable search for ‘synergies’ gets under way.