Most of you will know that the California solar company Solyndra has failed, burning through in less than two years nearly $535 million in taxpayer money.
I wrote in Forbes yesterday that it was a headscratcher why anyone thought this a sound investment
Obama’s investment of taxpayer money into Solyndra is a great example. It is clear little due diligence was completed before the loan guarantees to Solyndrawere rushed out the door in 2009 in time to meet Energy Secretary StevenChu’s artificial target date for the first loan of Obama’s green jobs program. A good, well-timed sound bite on the evening news was more important that the actual details of the investment.
But, in fact, little due diligence should have been necessary. Already in 2009 it was clear that the solar panel industry had commoditized, and low-cost manufacturing would be the key to succefully competing in the market. Further, European countries whose subsidies and high feed-in tariffs for solar were driving most of the market growth were already in the process of dialing back those incentives.
Surely any reasonable investor would have been leary about entering such a market with an under-scale startup, much less one which chose California of all places to build their plant. Most rational investors would cite California as a huge liability in a falling-price commodity market, but it was an asset for a company trying to compete in capturing taxpayer dollars, being the home of many of the most powerful politicians most likely to buy into the green jobs boondoggle (of course it did not hurt that Solyndra’s largest investor is a major Obama campaign contributor).
It turns out that the numbers were worse than I imagined, and reading ZeroHedge, it seems like some outright fraud may be involved (hat tip to a reader who I cannot never figure out if he wants to have his name mentioned or not)
What was in the prospectus was, no doubt, the real reason that investor chose to take a ‘pass’ on the deal. There were revenue/expense numbers for the nine months preceding the proposed deal:Revenue: $58.8mmCost of Goods Sold: $108.0mm
That is an absolute complete disaster. This is a low margin business to begin with. At Solyndra they were losing 84 cents for every dollar of sales. Adding in SG&A and CapEx the losses and cash drain had to be very heavy.
Wow, that is really a fail. Even in the worst run late 90's Internet company I ever encountered, they were not selling dollars for 50 cents. One wonders what numbers Steven Chu and company saw before they funded this dog, and whether from the very beginning these guys were counting on a steady stream of 9-figure government subsidy checks.