UPDATE 2-SolarWorld aims for 2012 operating profit

Thu Mar 22, 2012 8:27am EDT

* Says expects positive EBIT in 2012

* 2011 net loss 299 million euros

* Says EU could launch complaint against Chinese solar imports

* Shares down 3.3 pct (Recasts, adds CEO comments, details, quotes)

By Christoph Steitz

BONN, Germany, March 22 (Reuters) - Germany's SolarWorld aims to return to profit on an operating level this year, after massive declines in module prices and factory closures led it to post a huge net loss in 2011, considered the worst year for the industry so far.

"The year 2011 was a tough one for the industry and not satisfactory for SolarWorld," said Chief Executive Frank Asbeck, nicknamed "sun king" for his outgoing nature.

Large impairments on outdated production sites in the United States and Germany caused the group to post an operating loss of 233 million in 2011, while it racked up a net loss of 299 million euros.

This compares with an operating profit of 193 million euros and a net profit of 87 million in 2010 for the maker of solar cells, modules and wafers used in solar power generation.

"These are shocking numbers and it fits right into the industry's current crisis," a trader said. At 1140 GMT, shares in SolarWorld were trading 3.3 percent lower, at the bottom of Frankfurt's technology index.

Solar companies in Europe and the United States have been hit hard by a toxic mix of oversupply, falling prices, low-cost Asian competition and lower government subsidies, on which the industry still depends.

This has already triggered a wave of bankruptcies in the United States, most notably panel maker Solyndra LLC and Evergreen Solar. In Germany, peers including Solon , Solar Millennium and Solarhybrid filed for insolvency in recent months.

SolarWorld has, therefore, spearheaded an initiative against Asian low-cost competition through its U.S. arm, resulting in duties on imports from China that were announced by the U.S. Commerce Department earlier this week.

The U.S. is SolarWorld's largest foreign market, accounting for more than 21 percent of 2011 group sales. The company aims to generate 75 percent of sales in markets outside Germany in the future, up from 58 percent last year.

SolarWorld is also working on a trade complaint in the EU which Asbeck said it hoped to file in the European summer, when it has gathered enough support among Europe's solar companies.

"However, I see a high probability that the EU will start a complaint itself and follow the U.S.'s example," Asbeck said.

The U.S. Commerce Department announced on Tuesday duties ranging from 2.90 percent to 4.73 percent, much lower than anticipated. But an additional ruling in May is still outstanding and could drive up the final amount, Asbeck said. ($1 = 0.7582 euros) (Additional reporting by Daniela Pegna in Frankfurt; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)

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