PV Crystalox closes Japanese wafer business, continues strategic review

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Multicrystalline silicon wafer makers have been experiencing some relief due to a shortage of multi wafers which has led to limited price recovery, but this has not been sufficient to save PV Crystalox Solar’s wafer operations in Japan.

In a trading note published on Wednesday, PV Crystalox revealed that it decided to “wind up” its Tokyo-based subsidiary at the end of 2015. The unit had been idled during 2015, due to a decline in cell manufacturing and the lack of an active customer base in Japan.

The company will keep its German wafering plant open, where it says that it has made “considerable progress” in cost reduction. Additionally it will continue a strategic review of the business which was planned to be completed at the end of 2015, in light of improved market conditions.

PV Crystalox did not provide capacity or utilization figures for its German or Japanese operations, but says that it will provide more details with the release of its annual report on March 17. The company produced 104 MW of wafers in the first half of 2015, and 212 over the course of 2014.

Wafer makers have been operating at very high capacity utilizations in recent quarters. IHS estimates that the average capacity utilization in multi-wafer factories hit 94% in the fourth quarter of 2015, which has resulted in modest increases in prices. This combined with record low prices for polysilicon has created improved market conditions for multicrystalline silicon wafer makers.

PV Crystalox notes that it has not been able to fully take advantage of low polysilicon prices, as like most wafer makers it has been locked into long-term contracts. However, it was able to re-negotiate some prices and terms, and a major polysilicon contract ended in 2015, giving the company more room.

Additionally, in March 2015 the company began the process of arbitration with a customer which it describes as “one of the world’s leading PV companies”, which PV Crystalox alleges did not buy wafers in line with its contractual obligations.

PV Crystalox still has one outstanding long-term polysilicon contract and a “significant” inventory of polysilicon, but at this point the company has decided that it is a better option to turn this into wafers than sell it on the spot market. For the time being, wafering in Germany will continue.