The solar industry is doing fairly well around the world this year. Recent data shows that U.S. installations were up 33% in the first quarter, Japan is growing rapidly, and China is investing billions to grow domestic demand.
But all of these positives couldn't help LDK Solar (NASDAQOTH:LDKSY) post decent numbers, and the company continues to slip closer and closer to bankruptcy. First-quarter sales were just $104.3 million, which isn't even double the quarterly interest expense of $58 million, and net loss was $187.1 million.
Management also announced that it is in talks with lenders to refinance $2.9 billion worth of debt after partially defaulting on a $24 million bond earlier this year. If this were the U.S., debtors would have pushed the company into bankruptcy by now, but Chinese state-run banks hold most of the debt, so a solution is very difficult for investors to predict.
What is known is that LDK Solar is nowhere near profitability and won't be for a long time. Debt has a stranglehold on the company, and without a bailout from China, there's no way the company survives. That means this stock is hands off to investors.
Stick with quality
LDK Solar and Suntech Power (NASDAQOTH:STPFQ) have already defaulted on debt, and the most leveraged Chinese manufacturers may follow others into full on bankruptcy (Suntech's subsidiary is already bankrupt, but the parent company isn't). Betting on leverage and hope for a recovery in China is a dangerous game, and investors should stick with high-quality manufacturers.
In China, Canadian Solar (NASDAQ:CSIQ) is doing a better job transitioning to Japan and project development than most, and it would be a much better pick than most. But still, there are risks, and this Fool's choice is to stick with high-quality U.S. companies for which you don't have to depend on government banks for survival.
My top pick is still SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR), and another great company is SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY). Residential solar grew 53% in the first quarter, and both companies have a major share of this growing market. Unlike utility-scale solar, the residential space is far more consistent, and we can expect more growth in the future. Both SunPower and SolarCity sign customers up to 20-year leases, ensuring revenue long-term.
Another company with a solid balance sheet is First Solar, once the largest solar company in the world. The company has a great balance sheet and captive demand with massive solar projects. I don't like this market as much as solar leasing, but the company's project-development expertise can't be matched.
Foolish bottom line
LDK Solar is on its last leg, and after China let Suntech's subsidiary go into bankruptcy, I don't see why it wouldn't do the same with LDK Solar. This is a stock I would stay far, far away from.
Fool contributor Travis Hoium manages an account that owns shares of SunPower. He also owns shares of SunPower and has long January 2015 $5, $7, $15, and $25 calls on SunPower. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.