GFI, Oaktree price solar company IPO

Solar cell equipment maker GT Solar is seeking a roughly $500m debut despite a rough second quarter for venture-backed floats.

GFI Energy Ventures and Oaktree Capital Management have priced the public debut of portfolio company GT Solar at around $500 million, despite what many are calling the worst environment in years for venture-backed public offerings.

The Los Angeles-based firms, co-general partners of the fund that purchased GT Solar in 2006, plans to place 30.3 million shares on the market by the end of the month, anticipating a price of $15.50 to $17.50 per share.

At $16.50, the public debut would be just under $500 million (€318 million). Proceeds of the float will go entirely to the company’s investors, according to SEC documents filed by the New Hampshire-based developer of solar cell manufacturing equipment. GFI and Oaktree will collectively retain a 78 percent private ownership stake in the company.

GT Solar said it did not expect to pay dividends on the newly issued common stock “for the foreseeable future”. The company will trade on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

GT Solar’s public debut comes at a time when venture-backed public offerings are at all-time lows.

According to a study released by the National Venture Capital Association earlier this month, no single venture firm brought a portfolio company public during the second quarter of 2008, the first time that has happened in 30 years.

“There’s certainly a lot of negativity in the markets in general,” CMEA Ventures managing director James Watson recently told PEO. “I think the appetite for the buyers of IPO shares right now, as well as every other share in the market, is just not there.”

GFI and Oaktree have guided several energy-related companies to successful public offerings, including the 2004 Toronto Stock Exchange listing of Xantrex Technology, an electronics supplier for fuel cells, solar panels and other emerging energy technologies.

The firms purchased GT Solar from early-stage backer RBC Venture Partners for an undisclosed amount in 2006, filing for a public debut in April 2007. GFI and Oaktree have waited over a year to price the float.

Founded in 1994 by former engineers at Ferrofluidics, GT Solar makes silicon-based solar cell manufacturing equipment, and is a primary supplier of reactors for silicon production. Roughly 85 percent of the company’s production is exported to foreign countries.