China has for some time been subsidizing its solar industry and betting big on clean energy.
But the huge bet seems to be crumbling now, and at the center of it is Suntech Power Holdings, one of the world's biggest solar panel-makers.
In November, a U.S. trade panel approved tariffs of between 24 - 36 percent on Chinese solar-panel imports, after it ruled that domestic solar panel-makers were hurt by illegal dumping.
They argued that Chinese solar panel manufacturers could sell their products dirt cheap because they were extremely heavily subsidized by their government. Suntech was subject to an even higher 36 percent tax.
Suntech has also been the subject of controversy for some time over its finances. Bloomberg reports that the company had been amassing debt for quite a while and that it reached close to $2 billion as of August 2012.
Another huge blow to the company was its discovery that €554.2 million in German government bonds that it was given as collateral for its investment in Global Solar Fund "may not have existed and the company may have been a victim of fraud." That dispute was settled last week.
Then, Suntech announced that it had entered a forbearance agreement with holders of $541 million in bonds due today, and said it will not make the payment but is working with bondholders to restructure the debt.
In a March 11 press release, the company said it had worked with holders of 60 percent of the company's three percent convertible notes and they had agreed not "to exercise their rights under the Notes and the related indenture" until May 15, 2013.
Now they could be sued by bondholder Trondheim Capital Partners LP, according to Reuters. Suntech is also in talks to be bailed out by the government of Wuxi, China where it is based.
Patrick Chovanec, chief strategist at Silvercrest Asset Management, tweeted "we may be on the verge of the first major Chinese bankruptcy since GITIC in 1999."
Chovanec has previously said the Chinese solar industry has "a dozen Solyndras." A quick refresher: Solyndra got a massive loan from the Obama administration right before it went bankrupt. Concerns were raised about the impact of political fundraising. From his interview with NPR:
"Well, they have a dozen Solyndras. They basically have tried to build up an industry by pouring subsidies into trying to pick winners in that industry and right now those companies are failing badly because there’s a massive amount of overcapacity that’s been created."
Suntech's stock is down nearly 98 percent since 2008 as this chart shows. In the past year, it's been down nearly 80 percent:
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