MEMC Electronic Materials doesn't waver from its devotion to wafers. MEMC supplies silicon wafers ranging in size from 100mm to 300mm -- four inches to one foot -- in diameter. In addition to standard prime polished wafers, MEMC makes epitaxial wafers (which have an added layer of single-crystal silicon) for advanced chips, as well as lower-grade wafers used to test chip-making equipment and production lines. The company also makes solar wafers and sells solar-grade polysilicon, both of which go into making solar cells. Its SunEdison unit develops solar energy projects in North America and Europe. Customers outside the US account for most of sales.
China represents MEMC's largest market, accounting for more than 20% of sales, followed by Taiwan (20%) and the US (16%). The company saw strong year-over-year growth in the US and China, as well as in South Korea, which represents just under 10% of sales.
Sales and Marketing
The company markets its wafers through a direct sales force and a global network of customer service centers. The duration of its sales agreements is generally one year or less. MEMC's solar energy projects are sold directly, as well as through local and regional channel partners.
Following a difficult economic environment that caused revenue to plummet in 2009, MEMC has been on an upward trajectory. It saw revenue grow more than 20% to $2.7 billion in 2011, primarily on the strength of its SunEdison business, which grew 75% year-over-year. The company's semiconductor segment increased slightly on higher wafer prices, but volume was down from 2010.
The company lost about $1.5 billion in 2011 as a downturn in the solar industry caused prices to drop for solar wafers, cells, and other components. MEMC's net income was also impacted by substantial restructuring and impairment charges.
To combat its financial struggles, the company initiated a reorganization in late 2011 that included workforce reductions of about 20% (some 1,400 employees), facility closings and reductions in capacity, and cutting back on joint venture activities. These actions continued into 2012.
MEMC has seen a growth trend in its SunEdison business and it plans to continue that growth through expansion of project development into more countries in Europe and Asia, as well as in the Middle East, Africa, and South America.
Mergers and Acquisitions
Expansion at home, though, wasn't off the table, as in 2011 MEMC, jointly with SunEdison, bought the US subsidiary of global solar power plant developer Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV), in a deal worth up to about $235 million. MEMC hopes the addition will help it gain traction toward being a dominant US utility player.
In 2010 MEMC bought Solaicx, a manufacturer of solar-grade silicon wafers and ingots, to give it expanded capacity to manufacture wafers and ingots using less expensive monocrystalline silicon, which can be used to bring down the cost of solar cells and modules. Later that year, MEMC also entered into a module production agreement intended to lower costs further and strengthen its supply chain for integrated solar projects. – less