Solar industry groups seek pact to settle trade disputes

Solar industry
International pact
urged to end disputes

An international group of solar industry trade associations meeting in Shanghai last week has issued a joint declaration appealing to China, the European Union and the United States to avert a trade war and negotiate a settlement to disputes over solar panels, according to one person who attended the meeting.

The groups also urged the creation of a permanent intergovernmental committee, modeled on one for the semiconductor industry, to address solar competitiveness issues.

The appeal comes amid rising tension over E.U. and U.S. tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels. The United States imposed tariffs last year, and the E.U. recently imposed provisional duties averaging 47 percent on imports of Chinese-made solar panels.

Many U.S. companies favor a negotiated resolution, though U.S. firms have divergent interests. Companies that sell equipment and silicon to Chinese
solar-panel makers fear the effects of a trade war, but U.S. firms that install solar panels have benefited from low-priced imports.

U.S. and European panel manufacturers alleged that Chinese panel makers were benefiting from Chinese government subsidies and were dumping their products at prices below cost.

Chinese panel makers have been struggling in the competitive oversupplied global market. Suntech, which led the world in solar panel sales in 2011, has been forced into bankruptcy and is negotiating a restructuring.

Steven Mufson

general electric
Financial unit topay out $6.5 billion

General Electric plans to extract $6.5 billion in dividends from its financial unit this year as chief executive Jeffrey Immelt ramps up shareholder rewards while shrinking the business.

The payments from GE Capital will consist of 30 percent of its total 2013 profit, or about $2 billion, and a $4.5 billion special dividend, GE said Monday in a statement. GE Capital paid a first-quarter earnings dividend of $447 million on April 19, it said.

GE Capital resumed the payouts last year, returning $6.4 billion to its parent, after suspending them in 2009 when frozen credit markets jeopardized its access to financing. Immelt is tapping the financial division for cash to fund stock buybacks and dividends that are slated to return $18 billion to shareholders this year while shrinking its contribution to GE’s total profit.

— Bloomberg News

Also in Business

l  Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said late Monday that he will begin tapping into two government employee retirement funds to buy more time before the U.S. Treasury is faced with the prospect of defaulting on the national debt. In a letter to congressional leaders, Lew said he would tap the civil service retirement and disability fund and a similar fund that covers retired postal workers. The law allows him to remove investments from these funds to allow for more borrowing until Congress votes to raise the debt limit. In January, Congress voted to temporarily suspend the debt limit but that suspension ended Sunday.

l British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday told Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and other business leaders that he expected their companies to pay taxes in return for benefiting from low tax rates. Cameron’s remarks came days after British lawmakers accused Google of using “smoke and mirrors” to avoid paying tax. Cameron was speaking at a regular quarterly meeting of the government’s business advisory group, attended by Schmidt, at which corporate taxation was discussed.

l  Chesapeake Energy on Monday named a top executive from rival Anadarko Petroleum to head the No. 2 U.S. natural gas producer, which has suffered a governance crisis and liquidity crunch over the past year. Chesapeake hired Robert Douglas Lawler, senior vice president of international and deep-water operations at Anadarko, to fill the post vacated by co-founder Aubrey McClendon in April.

l  Caterpillar said Monday that retail demand for its construction and mining equipment continued to be sluggish in April, although the sales picture appeared to be improving in almost every market outside North America. The Peoria, Ill.-based company said worldwide dealer sales of its earthmoving machines fell 9 percent in April from the prior year.

l  The U.S. Air Force plans to start operational use of Lockheed Martin-built F-35 fighter jets in mid-2016, a year earlier than planned, using a software package similar to the Marine Corps version, two sources familiar with the plans told the Reuters news agency on Monday. Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said a final decision had not been made and declined to comment further. A spokesman for the Pentagon’s F-35 program office declined to comment.

l  TiVo, the developer of digital-video recorders, posted a narrower first-quarter loss after adding the most pay-TV subscribers in seven years. The net loss of $10.3 million, or 9 cents a share, compared with a loss of $20.8 million, or 17 cents, a year earlier, Alviso, Calif.-based TiVo said Monday. Analysts had forecast a loss of 14 cents. Sales rose 22 percent to $82.6 million in the quarter ended April 30, beating estimates of $77.2 million. TiVo is increasing subscribers by providing its Web-connected digital-video recorders to pay-TV systems, including Britain’s Virgin Media and Atlantic Broadband, a new U.S. client.

— From news services

Coming Today

l  10 a.m.: Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Internal Revenue Service.

l  Earnings: Best Buy, Home Depot.

Steven Mufson covers energy and other financial news.
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