Wind giant on edge of collapse

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NEG Micon is in serious crisis, the results of which could lead to anything from bankruptcy of the world's second largest wind turbine manufacturer to purchase of the Danish company by an overseas concern. Shareholders lost DKK 2.2 billion ($317.4 million) in just 45 minutes late in the day on September 30 following a brief report to the stock exchange by the NEG Micon board. The report warned shareholders that the company's caretaking directors had unearthed "such serious problems that there is a severe risk that the company's capital is lost."NEG Micon, based in the Danish town of Randers, has 25 subsidiary companies at home and abroad and employs 1600. On January 1 its capital was DKK 507 million ($73.3 million), though this was reduced by DKK 35 million ($5.1 million) when the company reported poor half year results (Windpower Monthly, September 1999). The company's managing director, Jens-Erik Kristensen, was fired as a result.In the 45 minutes between the stock exchange announcement and close of business on September 30, NEG Micon shares dropped 228 points, from 278 to 50, though recovered slightly to close at DKK 75 for a DKK 10 share. NEG Micon shares were transferred to the stock exchange observation list, along with those of its dominant main shareholder, Schouw & Co, a Danish company of diversified engineering interests which holds 36.8% of NEG Micon. Among shareholders which lost 73% of their investment are NEG Micon employees, who on September 30 owned shares worth of DKK 22 million. Others major losers are two of Denmark's largest pension foundations, who together own 18.3% of the company. Further shareholders are Unibank, which owns 4.39%, Momenta Aps (3.6%) and the Union Bank of Switzerland (2.3%). The remainder is held by small shareholders.The reasonsNo explanation for the shock news was given by the directors, other than it was based on "an examination of the problems as reported in the half year report." More information is promised once the company leadership has "an overview of the situation." Employees at Randers were called to a meeting at 0900 on October 1 and told that more information would be available in a couple of weeks.After the meeting employees were in agreement that their jobs were not in acute danger and that negotiations with financial institutions and other business connections, including NEG Micon's existing main shareholders, are likely to lead to a positive result. Randers mayor, Keld Hüttel, was also pressing hard to save the town's major employer.Another option is that NEG Micon, with its drastically reduced value, could prove easy pickings for an overseas competitor. Enron Wind, part of Enron Corp, an American gas and energy giant, has earlier shown interest in the company. There is no indication that NEG Micon's nearest competitor, Vestas, is a potential buyer. Neither is it expected that the company will close.NEG Micon is currently headed by Erling Lindahl, a director of Schouw, and the company's just appointed managing director from January 1, 2000, Torben Bjerre-Madsen (see page 21 of this issue). Although the seriousness of the company's problems has surprised everybody, both inside and outside the concern, and no details are being released about their cause, the probability is that the huge losses are related to NEG Micon's development of large wind power plant in the United States, its acquisition of a series of loss making companies at home and abroad, and to a series gearbox failure in NEG Micon turbines (Windpower Monthly, September 1999).DisbeliefFormer director, Jens-Erik Kristensen, denies that the economic problems are connected with the company's US involvements, because the losses associated with these projects were already written off in the first half year. Neither can he understand the reasons behind the loss of capital. "I don't believe it. The numbers just don't hang together," says Kristensen, who lost a small fortune on September 30 when the value of the shares he was paid off with dropped to the floor. He left the company in August.

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