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China solar sector powering wave of overseas IPOs

By Staff
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SHANGHAI, Apr 18 (Reuters) Solar energy is powering a new wave of overseas listings hopefuls from China, with up to five firms aiming for IPOs in the next 12 months as they bank on strong global demand for alternative energy sources.

The surge in new offerings would come on the heels of the highly successful listing of Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd., whose shares have more than doubled since it raised 6 million in a New York listing last December.

Since then, China's top semiconductor firm, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., has also said it will manufacture solar cells as a sideline using recycled silicon from its primary operations.

The current pipeline of Chinese IPO candidates includes Canadian Solar Inc., based in Suzhou near Shanghai, and Yingli Solar, based in the northern city of Baoding.

Canadian Solar, also known as CSI, has hired an investment bank and could make its first public filing within weeks, with plans to raise at least 0 million this summer, according to two sources.

Yingli is a little further behind, but has already picked an investment bank, one source said.

All the companies are cashing in on soaring global demand for energy, which has helped push oil prices to record highs and has made alternative energy sources more economically viable.

At the same time, technological improvements have also helped raise the efficiency and lower the costs of solar technology. Many governments are also offering tax and other incentives to promote alternative energy sources.

''Alternative energy always looks better when fossil fuel is expensive,'' said Kurt Berney, a China-based attorney at the law firm of O'Melveny and Myers.

''These businesses are addressing a very real need. There's a chance you could see three to five of these guys coming out (with IPOs) by the end of the year.'' In the last few weeks alone, a handful of fast-growing solar cell makers in China have raised about 0 million in venture capital, attesting to the sector's attraction, according to one source in the investment community.

Based in the city of Wuxi, about a two-hour train ride from Shanghai, Suntech is the company that many of the listing candidates hope to follow.

In its first quarterly earnings report since its listing, the company -- whose founder became one of China's richest men based on his holdings -- said its revenue last year nearly tripled to 6 million from million in 2004.

But despite the gain, its profit was flat in the fourth quarter due to rising silicon prices: a factor likely to create uncertainty and risk for the sector in the future.

REUTERS PV SND1456

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