Shares in Durham-based Cree plunged 17 percent in very heavy trading Wednesday after the company warned Tuesday that revenues are plunging well below expectations for the current quarter. More than 3 million shares were traded within the first 15 minutes of trading, thus quickly doubling the daily average.

By 11:30 a.m., close to 10 million shares had been traded and shares stabilized at $24.67, down $4.38 ot 15 percent.

That total soared to more than 14 million by the close with shares still down 14 percent.

Also, Cree says in a securities filing that one of its top executives has taken a new position

Cree (Nasdaq: CREE) said revenues are expected to miss its forecast by some $33 million with a quarterly total of around $367 million.

That’s under the expected range of between $400-430 million and a big drop ffrom $436 million this past quarter. A year ago, Cree posted $410 million in revenue.

The big drop is being driven by a substantial miss in Lighting Product revenue, which will be around $187 million as compared to a forecast of $255 million and $224 million last year.

CNBC and TheStreet’s Jim Cramer offered a succinct review of Cree’s status in the commercial lighting business:

“GE is a big company. Cree going up against GE? Well, forget about it.”

Shares closed Tuesday at $29.05.

The estimated revenue is below the company’s previously targeted range of $400 million to $430 million due to lower Lighting Products revenue,” said Cree Chair and CEO Chuck Swoboda, “I believe we’ve addressed the root causes that led to our recent business challenges.

“While it’s premature to provide specific targets at this time, the order rate in commercial lighting improved in March, and we’re optimistic that this, combined with demand for new products, will begin to drive growth again in fiscal Q4.”

Cree cited three factors for lower lighting revenue:

  • “customer service disruptions related to our ERP system conversion
  • “new product delays
  • “slower than forecast calendar Q1”

Later in the day, Cree reported that Norbert Hiller, head of lighting products, was taking a new position. Replacing him on an interim basis is David Elein.

“To further strengthen our team and support our aggressive growth goals for this business, David Elien will lead commercial lighting on an interim basis, as we conduct a search for a new leader of this business,” Swoboda said in a conference call. “David is a lighting industry veteran, with a track record of success, both prior to and at Cree. Norbert Hiller will move to focus on longer-term growth opportunities as the leader of corporate business development.

Cree traded at $23.90, down nearly 18 percent, later Tuesday evening.