(Reuters) – SMA Solar, the world's largest maker of solar inverters, is gearing up for a tough defense of its 20 percent-plus profit margins and leading market share as competition intensifies in the lucrative sector.

“We are looking very, very closely at our competition and don’t get me wrong — we’re fighting for our customers every day,” incoming Chief Executive Pierre-Pascal Urbon told the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Thursday.

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The company is coming under attack from new players such as Power One Inc, whose market share soared last year to make it the global No.2 and which reported sharply higher quarterly earnings earlier in May.

Urbon, who also retains his chief financial officer post, said the company’s margin would retreat in the mid-term from last year’s near-30 percent on the basis of earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) as competitive threats increase.

Unlike module and cell makers such as Q-Cells and Solon which suffered from weak demand ahead of solar power subsidy cuts, SMA Solar remained profitable in the first quarter.

But its EBIT margin fell to 5.4 percent in the period from the 27.4 percent reached last year, after clients’ high inventories eroded profitability.

The company, however, kept its outlook for an EBIT margin of 21-25 percent in 2011, compared with a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S estimate of 22 percent.

SMA said demand for its products would pick up from the second quarter onwards, counting on markets outside Germany, the world’s..more

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