UPDATE 3-Energy Conversion says Europe projects on hold

Thu Mar 10, 2011 7:05pm EST

* Slashing production to 25 MW for the fiscal Q3

* Had previously forecast production of 27-33 MW

* Projects in France, Italy being put on hold

* Delays could impact 50 pct of quarterly revenue (Adds analyst comment, byline; updates share activity)

By Nichola Groom

LOS ANGELES, March 10 (Reuters) - U.S. solar company Energy Conversion Devices (ENER.O) said it was slashing production for the current quarter because cutbacks in French and Italian solar subsidies have put projects there on hold.

The company's shares slid more than 22 percent in extended trade following Thursday's announcement. It said the stalled projects could impact as much as half of its expected revenue for the fiscal third quarter.

The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company is cutting production of solar products to 25 megawatts for the quarter ending March 31. Last month, it had forecast third-quarter production of 27 MW to 33 MW.

The news came hours after solar company Canadian Solar Inc (CSIQ.O) said some Italian customers were seeking to postpone orders, sending shares of solar panel makers plummeting. [ID:nL3E7EA1CL]

Energy Conversion's stock lost 7.6 percent to close at $3.16 on the Nasdaq, and slid to $2.45 after hours. As of Thursday's close, the stock was down 64 percent from its 52-week high of $8.73 reached in March.

Like many solar companies, Energy Conversion Devices has been plagued by investor concerns about cutbacks in incentives for solar power in top European markets including Italy, France and Germany.

"The dramatic and abrupt shift in the French and Italian solar incentive structures has impacted our business and forced us to reconsider our near-term financial outlook," Chief Executive Mark Morelli said in a statement.

Morelli added that France and Italy were two of his company's key markets, and that its outlook would be more certain after governments in those nations implemented new subsidy regimes later this year.

But one analyst said it was unclear exactly when the markets would recover.

"No banks are going to finance projects when you don't know what the cash flows are," Wedbush analyst Christine Hersey said. "They don't even know how long this reduced production level may last."

Hersey has an "underperform" rating on Energy Conversion Devices shares. She added that Energy Conversion Devices was in a unique position because it was very dependent on the French and Italian markets.

Rival solar companies will seek to redirect volumes to other markets where they have a strong presence, such as Germany, she said.

Meanwhile, Energy Conversion Devices will take charges for restructuring and factory under-utilization, Morelli said.

Energy Conversion Devices has also been hurt by concerns that its thin film silicon technology will not be able to compete with other solar technologies long term.

The company makes lightweight, flexible solar laminates for rooftops and buildings, and its products are less efficient at converting sunlight into electricity than rival solar technologies. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Richard Chang and Andre Grenon)