Amtech nears final solar exit with SoLayTec sale

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“Significant investment is required to effectively compete in the changing solar industry,” said Amtech Systems boss JS Whang on April 3. “We therefore conclude Tempress and SoLayTec would be better positioned to capitalize on opportunities in the solar industry under new ownership.”

Confirming the findings of a review of Amtech operations that had started the previous November, the chairman and CEO was announcing a change of emphasis that would see the Arizona-based business sell off the two solar-focused subsidiaries mentioned and concentrate on semiconductors and silicon carbide and LED polishing.

Friday brought the news Amtech were nearing a full retreat from the solar business, with the sale of the SoLayTec atomic layer deposition (ALD) business.

A very brief investor update was light on any further detail, with no buyer named nor a value given for the transaction, leaving shareholders to wait until the third quarter, or possibly even full-year updates to learn more.

Tempress sale expected to follow

Whang did, however, find time to offer a reassurance that the other solar-facing business unit – Tempress – would soon be shown the door too.

“We engaged Oaklins SmallCap Adivsory BV, located in the Netherlands, to advise on the divestiture of Tempress Holding BV,” said the Amtech chief in Friday’s update. “Today, we are pleased to report that Oaklins is actively engaged in conversations with both private equity and strategic buyers.

So, not much detail there either, although shareholders may be relieved to see progress given both businesses have been treated as discontinued operations since late March.

Amtech expects to make a gain this quarter on the SoLayTec sale, according to the update, and to see losses from discontinued operations begin to fall from the final three months of the year onwards.

Big order vanished

Only last September, ALD unit Tempress was trumpeting a $6 million-plus order from a major client for its high-efficiency, n-type solar cell production equipment. The reported cancellation of a major order – quite possibly that one – not long afterwards indicated the turbulence afflicting Chinese solar in the wake of Beijing’s 5/31 policy decision last May, and appears to have proved the final straw for the Amtech board.

However, the rush to exit solar because of declining Chinese orders for high efficiency production equipment sees Amtech taking entirely the opposite approach of most of the big Chinese manufacturers, who have now shrugged off the months of policy uncertainty in their homeland to pull out the stops and expand production to feed an anticipated global solar gold rush.

Have Amtech gone too soon?