BONN (Reuters) - SolarWorld, Germany's No.2 solar company by market value, sees higher sales this year and next, taking heart from a strong U.S. market and a boost to the renewable industry following Japan's nuclear crisis.
But Chief Executive Frank Asbeck, whose made headlines in late 2008 by making a bid for GM unit Opel, said it was impossible to make a profit forecast for the ongoing business year, due to an uncertain price environment for solar products.
Shares in SolarWorld were 2.3 percent lower by 1313 GMT, as traders pointed to profit taking after hefty gains since the Japan earthquake, while analysts, such as DZ Bank analyst Sven Kuerten, pointed to the outlook as being too vague.
The renewable sector has seen a massive surge since a 9.0-magnitude earthquake caused a nuclear crisis in Japan and governments around the world pledged to speed up switching to renewable sources of energy.
Since March 10, SolarWorld shares are up almost 30 percent, outperforming gains of other sector bellwethers such as Suntech, First Solar, Renewable Energy Corp (REC) and SMA Solar
"Japan is experiencing a disaster of biblical proportions. It shows that we need to pull out of nuclear power and make sure that renewables supply all our energy needs," Asbeck said at the company's annual press conference.
SolarWorld said on Thursday that it expected 2011 sales to exceed the level of 2010, when the company generated 1.305 billion euros ($1.84 billion), and added it also expected sales to rise further in 2012.
In Germany, the world's biggest solar market, the nuclear crisis has already led to a shutdown of several nuclear plans in the country and the government is set to shore up the renewable sector.
"We are dealing with politics so it's too early to conclude what will actually happen, but I believe it's fair to say that this event is so big that it could possibly have a very big long-term impact," said Jon Sigurdsen, renewable fund manager at DnB Nor Group unit Carlson.
Asbeck, who owns 27.8 percent in SolarWorld, had told Reuters already last month that sales would rise this year, but refrained from giving further details at the time.
Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S estimates show that SolarWorld's revenues are expected to grow by more than 13 percent to 1.477 billion in 2011, while 2012 sales are seen at 1.62 billion.
Smaller British peer PV Crystalox on Thursday also gave a cautiously optimistic view on 2011, saying that selling prices were stabilizing in the current year.
The solar industry -- which still depends on government subsidies -- had been battered by changes in subsidy legislation in Germany and Italy, the world's No.1 and No.2 markets.
SolarWorld, however, benefits from strong growth in the United States, particularly in California, and the company is aiming to raise its share of revenues outside of Germany to 75 percent in the next two years, with the United States as the biggest market.
"I would just say that basically anyone in the industry is trying to grab a share of this market," Carlson's Sigurdsen said, but added that other foreign players were also quite aggressive in entering that market.
(Additional reporting by Adveith Nair in London; Graphic by Vincent Flasseur; Editing by Mike Nesbit)