CEO Out, Layoffs In At Energy Conversion Devices

AUBURN HILLS (WWJ) – A day of  layoff announcements and management change at Auburn Hills based solar panel maker Energy Conversion Devices Inc.

In Tuesday filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company announced a huge loss for its third fiscal quarter ended March 31 and the resignation of president and CEO Mark D. Morelli.

ECD said it negotiated a resignation agreement with Morelli under which he agreed to forego outplacement and other services that would have cost the company $950,000. However, under a previously negotiated separation agreement, he will still receive nearly $2 million in salary over the next two years, and will be immediately vested for options in about 200,000 shares of ECD stock, currently worth about $300,000.

As for the company’s financial performance, sales plunged to $21.5 million from $79.4 million a year earlier. ECD posted a huge net loss of $243.2 million in its third fiscal quarter. Most of the loss was caused by a huge “impairment charge” of $221.5 million, essentially a writedown of the value of its assets. The company said that “due to changing market conditions in the quarter ended March 31, 2011, losses incurred to-date and a dramatic and abrupt shift in the Italian and French solar incentives structures, the company concluded that the carrying values of its assets may not be recoverable.”

The same thing happened last year — the company said in its SEC filings that “In the quarter ended March 31, 2010, due to changing market conditions, losses incurred to-date and the increased near-term capacity anticipated from the company’s technology roadmap, the company concluded that the carrying values of its long-lived assets, including goodwill, may not recoverable, and the Company recorded an impairment loss of $358.0 million.”

Thus, officially, the company posted a loss of $243.2 million or $4.88 a share, vs. a loss of $385.1 million or $9.10 a share a year earlier.

For the first nine months of the fiscal year, the company posted revenue of $159.4 million, down from $168.3 million in the first nine months of the prior fiscal year. The loss for the nine months was $264.1 million or $5.60 a share, vs. $436.3 million or $10.31 a share in the first nine months of the prior fiscal year.

The company also said it is laying off 300 employees, most of whom work in Michigan. That’s one-fifth of its work force.

Energy Conversion Devices blames its first-quarter woes on “significant industry-wide disruptions in the company’s key European solar markets.”

In its SEC filing, ECD said: “We believe that there remains strong interest in alternative energy in general and solar in particular, but existing global political and financial conditions are significantly disrupting key solar markets. Our United Solar Ovonic segment has been significantly impacted by these disruptions, as reflected by the substantial decline in our solar shipments, revenues and income during the fiscal third quarter, principally due to our concentration on two of these markets, Italy and France. While we believe that these markets will return as attractive markets for us, albeit with different dynamics, we have undertaken several initiatives to improve our business to respond to the near disruptions and better position our company for the future.”

In addition to the layoffs, the company said it would boost its focus on the North American market and sell more to building materials companies based on the ease of its products’ installation.

Jay Knoll has been named interim president while a nationwide search for a CEO will be launched. Knoll was previously ECD’s executive vice president, general counsel, chief administrative officer and corporate secretary. Knoll’s base salary was increased to $335,000.  In addition, the company named Knoll a participant under the Senior Management Retention Plan described below with a retention benefit equal to 75 percent of his base salary. 

The layoffs mean a worldwide glut in solar panel production is apparently hitting home. A speaker at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium Wednesday said global solar panel production is currently about twice worldwide annual demand of 20 gigawatts.

  • Curtis Gwin

    Significent industry wide disruptions in their key European solar markets?(What does that mean?) Are they finding out the futility in trying to save money in their European markets by having products made there! Very few companies are transfering anything to Europe in the hopes of increasing profits. Perhaps if they change to the made in the US logo, and manufacture all parts here ,besides the significant goverment help to cut costs they will a lot fewer disruptions in the market place!

  • Former Michigan Worker

    Have a problem in solar energy, lay off Michigan workers. Say your auto company is bleeding red, lay off Michigan workers. I understand your school system is dumb, lay off Michigan workers. Gas prices too high and affecting your bottom line, lay off Michigan workers.

    No matter what your economic challenge, failure and castastrophe, there is a Michigan worker you can lay off to bring relief.

    Michigan: the unemployment capital of the world.

  • Hryhoriy

    Good grief!!….tha’s called the logic behind capitalism!! Since it’s based on TRUTH and not the typical lies purported by the left wing liberal extremists (aka obama), ECD is making the correct decision. If a MI worker wants fluff….go to russia and see how obama’s version of communism really works!! Quit whining and get a job with a company which is a true innovator and possesses a sound financial plan. However, spending all of your time reading nothing BUT the sports page actually got you into your past mess in MI. Grow up!

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