You can get an idea of the processes involved (but not the scale of the factory) with this YouTube promotional video:
They aim to be the largest maker of solar panels in the world.
This is a high profile company. It sponsors Formula 1 and Indy Car which gives the executives the chance to be filmed in front of fast cars surrounded by pretty young women.
My problem is that the more I look at the accounts the less I understand them.
To this end I wrote a letter to management suggesting that they were in (seemingly unnecessary) breach of their debt covenants and they wrote back assuring me they were not.
This post makes public my letter and their response. Some commentary is provided on their response.
First my letter:
Attention Terry Wang, Chief Financial Officer, Trina Solar
by email: ***@trinasolar.com
Thomas Young, Senior Director of Investor Relations
by email: email@example.com
Puzzling over Trina's debt covenants
I am a hedge fund investor based in Australia. I am also the writer of the popular Bronte Capital blog. The blog has been associated with exposing Chinese accounting scandals but the companies discussed on the blog differ substantially from Trina Solar. Substantially they did not exist. Trina Solar clearly exists and Trina Solar panels are distributed widely.
I am increasingly puzzled over Trina Solar's accounts. The issue that puzzles me most is the high cash balance combined with strange debt covenants.
I intend on writing a blog post about this – and I seek your comments because it is almost certain there is a simple and innocent explanation of what I see and I am happy to include your response in my blog post. It is more an education in how a competent hedge fund manager reads accounts.
Anyway the issue I am raising is how Trina funds its capital expansion.
The last 20F filing contained the following investing cash flow section:
[Click for full detail...]
The columns are for 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively. Purchase of property plant and equipment was 165, 136 and 144 million dollars for the three years respectively.
The 20F also contains this section about a debt facility to purchase the property, plant and equipment.
In September 2009, Trina China entered into a five-year credit facility of approximately $303.3 million, consisting of RMB1,524.6 million Renminbi denominated loan and $80.0 million U.S. dollar denominated loan, with a syndicate of five PRC banks led by the Agricultural Bank of China and Bank of China. Approximately $269.2 million of the facility are designated solely for the expansion of our production capacity, with the remaining to be used to supplement working capital requirements once the capacity expansion is completed. The facility can be drawn down either in Renminbi or U.S. dollars. As of December 31, 2010, we had drawn down approximately $275.1 million under the facility. The remaining facility to supplement working capital requirements can only be drawn on or after the date of completion of capacity expansion. The weighted average interest rate for borrowings under the facility was 5.53% for the year ended December 31, 2010. Interest is payable quarterly or biannually in arrears for loans denominated in Renminbi and U.S. Dollars, respectively. Interest rate applied for Renminbi-denominated borrowings is the same interest rate stipulated by Chinese central bank plus 10%. U.S.-dollar denominated borrowings are subject to the six-month London Interbank Offered Rate plus 3%. The facility is guaranteed by Trina and Mr. Jifan Gao, our chairman and chief executive officer, and his wife, Ms. Chunyan Wu, and is collateralized by the property, plant and equipment of the project and the related land-use right. Borrowings outstanding as of December 31, 2010 are payable on a biannual basis, commencing on October 27, 2011. For purposes of the expansion, we are required to match draw-downs from the facility with an equal amount of cash from sources other than the facility. The terms of facility also contain financial covenants which, among other things, require us to maintain a debt-asset ratio of no more than 0.60, a net profit ratio of not less than zero percent and an interest coverage ratio of greater than 2.At first reading this is very puzzling. This facility is “designated solely for the expansion of our production capacity, with the remaining to be used to supplement working capital requirements once the capacity expansion is completed.” However we know that Trina's purchases of property, plant and equipment were 144 million in 2010 and 136 million in the WHOLE of 2009.
They facility is drawn to 275 million. So it appears Trina has funded their entire 2009 and 2010 capex with this facility. However the terms state that Trina must “match draw-downs from the facility with an equal amount of cash from sources other than the facility”. It doesn't look possible that Trina has done that and it appears that Trina has drawn their bank facilities in excess of what the covenants would allow.
I have puzzled further over this – maybe some old property, plant and equipment debt was rolled into this facility. But according to the latest 20F filing the long-term borrowings outstanding at the end of 2008 were only $14.6 million so the strangely-large draw-down of this facility cannot be the result of long-term debt rollover.
So unless I am mistaken (and I would appreciate you telling me where I am mistaken) Trina has drawn this facility far in excess of what is allowed under the facility terms and is currently in breach of its debt covenants.
This is peculiar because Trina showed free cash in excess of $750 million on their balance sheet as per December 2010. There would appear no reason why Trina would be in breach of the debt covenant. Moreover it is a pretty harsh covenant – it involves a pledge of most the property of Trina and personal guarantees by Mr Jifan Gao and his wife.
Anywhere but China I would consider this as an innocent mistake – one easily fixed by taking cash from the balance sheet and making good on the 50 percent rule. In China you have to question cash balances. I have spotted other companies with fake cash balances. But those were substantially fake companies and Trina is clearly a very large manufacturing concern.
So – I am writing to ask (a) whether my analysis is fundamentally wrong and if it is not (b) why are you in breach of your debt covenants, (c) how much of the cash on-balance-sheet will be used to make good that breach, (d) have you sought a waiver of those covenants and (e) whether that waiver has been made good.
I hope to hear your answer.
I intend on blogging on this in about five days – and I will incorporate your answers in the blog post.
Thanks in advance.
Now their response:
Senior Director, Investor Relations
I showed both the letter and the response to one of my better friends (someone highly familiar with the nuance of debt covenants) and he drolly replied that "prospective expenditures are not exactly matching funds".
The usual notion of "matching funds" is that if you spend $100 on plant and equipment the loan may be drawn to $50 and the other $50 has to come from somewhere else.
According to the company the loan is drawn to $275.1 million as of year end and Mr Young tells me the project is not finished. $275.1 million is way in excess of half of capital expenditure in 2009 and 2010.
Trina Solar say that some 2008 capital expenditures should also be included. The total investment in property, plant and equipment in three years 2008, 2009 and 2010 was (165 plus 136 plus 144 million equal to) 445 million. If they had only drawn the loan to 50 percent of the last three year's capex they would have only drawn 222.5 million rather than the above-mentioned 275.1 million.
Trina tell us that they can match funds with future expenditures. I find that unusual but as this blog is a fan of Fox News I will answer with the usual rejoinder: I report. You decide.
Post script: I think Jeffrey Rothstein's comment below - and my reply to it - are important parts of this story - so I encourage reading of the comments. I am not sure the 20F filing disclosure accurately reflects terms of the loan agreement.