September 22, 2010

Clipper Windpower seeks UTC takeover

Julia Kollewe, 20 September 2010

Clipper Windpower, which is building a wind turbine factory in the north-east, is in crisis talks that could see it taken over by its largest shareholder.

Clipper has been burning through cash and by the end of August its reserves had dwindled to $86m (£55m) from $140m on 30 June. The company said it faces “significant liquidity strain” within the next year.

It has now opened its books to United Technologies Corporation (UTC), the maker of Sikorsky helicopters, which has indicated it wants to take full control of the ailing business. The shares plummeted 30% to 31.5p.

UTC rode to Clipper’s rescue in December when it spent £126m buying a 49.5% stake in the loss-making company, which is listed on London’s junior Aim market but generates most of its sales in the US.

Last year Clipper won a grant from the government to build a factory in north-east that will make what it claims will be the world’s largest turbines. The factory, near Newcastle upon Tyne, is due to be finished by the end of the year and development of the new Britannia turbines will take another couple of years. Each turbine can generate up to 10MW of electricity, enough to supply 10,000 homes.

The global slump has hit the wind turbine market hard as many customers scaled back investment, but “conditions now appear to be stabilising at reduced levels from recent years”, Clipper said.

Danish firm Vestas closed its turbine plant on the Isle of Wight last year, citing a slowdown in orders worldwide.

UTC could increase its stake to 55% after invoking a clause in the deal signed in January, which limited it to a 49.9% stake until January 2012. Clipper is looking at a number of options, including seeking credit lines from its banks and negotiating with UTC on additional credit support, but a takeover by UTC is its main hope.

Clipper said that in light of the discussions with potential lenders, it had adequate resources to continue the business “for the foreseeable future”. It cautioned, however, that a financing deal was unlikely to be in place by the time it reports its first-half results on 30 September.

Clipper expects first-half revenues to crash to $150m-$154m from $357.3m a year ago after selling 43 turbines in the six months to June – in the US and Mexico – against 127 in the same period last year. However, its net loss is expected to shrink to $26m-$30m from $120m from lower remediation and warranty-related costs. This year, it hopes to deliver about 140 turbines to customers. The company said it had made a major breakthrough by getting UTC to provide warranty support.

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