As previewed in February, Canadian Solar's (NASDAQ:CSIQ) fourth-quarter results were nothing to rave about. Of course, you could swap in any cell or module maker's name in CSI's stead, and the statement would hold true. Pretty much everyone here's feeling a bit blue.

Shipments in the quarter dropped to an abysmal 19.6 megawatts, belying the considerable scale that this Chinese solar shop has achieved (and loudly proclaimed). Competitors Yingli Green Energy (NYSE:YGE) and Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL) both fared far better with their shipment volumes. Whereas these companies saw sequential drops of 1.5% and 13%, respectively, CSI's plunged by more than two-thirds.

In Yingli's case, I'd attributed the company's resilience to its European clientele. That was clearly too simplistic, because Canadian Solar's European sales dropped by a greater percentage sequentially than did its sales in Asia. Catering to the better-established markets isn't enough -- you have to target the well-capitalized companies within those markets. Yingli has done exactly that, in partnering with established PV players like IBC Solar. CSI, on the other hand, wrote off some bad debt in connection with certain German (and American) customers.

As we saw with Trina, JA Solar (NASDAQ:JASO), and Suntech Power (NYSE:STP), CSI also took an inventory charge that uglied up its gross margin results. As discussed with regard to key CSI supplier LDK Solar (NYSE:LDK), the impairment charge signifies changing economics, rather than a meaningful economic event in and of itself. Write-offs aside, CSI's margins will remain challenged for some time, though the company is projecting a return to the 13% to 15% range by the second half of 2009.

In fact, CSI's guidance explicitly relies on just such a back-half recovery, specifically with regard to macroeconomic conditions. This doesn't strike me as a particularly conservative assumption, and I would be disinclined to put my own investment dollars with anyone counting on such a snap-back recovery.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.