China Sunergy Still Not a Safe Bet

I used to view China Sunergy (Nasdaq: CSUN  ) as one of the runts of the litter. Two years ago, I called it a stunted solar stock. Polysilicon shortages plagued the company in those days. With that burden lifted -- as current oversupply now weighs on poly equipment makers like GT Solar (Nasdaq: SOLR  ) -- China Sunergy looks sturdier today. Of course, the shares sit much lower than they did back then, so I don't feel like a total jerk for telling investors to steer clear.

This quarter, the company cranked out $80 million of revenue, a modest sequential improvement compared to what we saw out of sizzling shops like Yingli Green Energy (NYSE: YGE  ) and Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ  ) . That sales number, over 85% of which came from solar cells, is about a third lower than last year's third-quarter levels. This, despite 60% higher shipments, totaling 54.4 megawatts.

How does that happen? Well, blended average sales prices were just 38% of last year's levels. With a collapse like that, it's fairly impressive that China Sunergy is still standing.

That said, I'm still not sure why investors are drawn to this solar shop. Does anyone really expect the solar cell business to become less cutthroat in the future? I suppose it's possible, if accommodative bank lending keeps Chinese players like Suntech Power (NYSE: STP  ) and JA Solar (Nasdaq: JASO  ) afloat long enough to grind other suppliers into the dirt through brutal price competition. China Sunergy is certainly in local lenders' good graces, having recently received low-cost financing from the Export and Import Bank of China.

This is my question for you, Foolish reader: What is the long-term competitive advantage of this company? If you have an answer, please share it in the comments section below. If not, I think the only sensible thing is to continue to avoid the stock, no matter how sunny the current solar reports may sound.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. Suntech Power is a Rule Breakers recommendation. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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