Energy Conversion Gains Most in Three Years After Hiring CEO

Energy Conversion Devices Inc., the U.S. solar panel maker that suspended production and is attempting to restructure its debt, climbed the most in more than three years after it hired a new chief executive officer.

Energy Conversion rose 42 percent to 44 cents in New York, the biggest gain since May 2008. The stock had plunged 93 percent this year before today.

Julian Hawkins, a former senior vice president at Abound Solar Inc., will become president and CEO on Dec. 5, Energy Conversion Devices said today in a statement. Jay Knoll, who was interim president, will become executive vice president and chief restructuring officer of the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company.

Energy Conversion Devices has been without a permanent chief since May, when CEO and President Mark Morelli resigned as sales fell 71 percent. The company is working to sell its Ovonic Battery Company unit and restructure $263 million in convertible notes. It said Nov. 8 it was shutting down production to sell off inventory.

Hawkins will focus on Energy Conversion Devices’ solar business and Knoll will concentrate on seeking “strategic alternatives,” according to the statement. The company has a market value of $22.6 million.

Energy Conversion Devices makes thin-film panels that it says are lighter than traditional solar products made from polysilicon. They compete against panels that are less expensive and convert sunlight into electricity more efficiently, putting the company at a disadvantage in a market where prices are falling amid an oversupply, said Adam Krop, an analyst at Ardour Capital Partners LLC in New York.

“The Chinese competitors are talking about scaling back their production in the fourth quarter of 2011,” Krop said in an interview. “If the industry leaders are doing that, then I think the marginal players such as Energy Conversion Devices will face an even longer period of underutilization.”

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