We now have a commercial arrangement with Diageo - albeit a temporary (though tasty) one. But that has not stopped us writing a press-release trumpeting this "strategic partnership". I may send a copy to the news wires to see if they will run it.
In all seriousness they probably would. They ran this:
CHANGZHOU, China, Aug. 17, 2011 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ --
Trina Solar Limited (TSL) ("Trina Solar" or the "Company"), a leading integrated manufacturer of solar photovoltaic (PV) products from ingots to modules, today announced that through its subsidiary, Trina Solar Australia Pty Ltd, it has signed a strategic partnership with Origin Energy Australia ("Origin"), the leading Australian integrated energy company.
Under the terms of the agreement, Trina Solar is expected to supply Origin with approximately 22 MW of PV modules over the next twelve months starting from the third quarter of 2011.
"We are delighted to initiate our relationship with Origin, Australia's leading energy retailer and the country's largest green energy retailer with significant investments in renewable energy technologies," said John Susa, Trina Solar's Country Manager of Australia and New Zealand. "We are confident that this long-term partnership with Origin will bolster our ability to expand and strengthen our market position in the residential segment."
Being a cynical sort of guy - and knowing that Origin Energy are reputable I checked this release. Here is what Origin said.
Origin has not put out a release as it is simply part of our ongoing supply arrangements and not material in its own right. Trina is one of a number of suppliers we use.
Group Manager, Investor Relations
I blogged this response here.
I almost did not need to check. When a party announces a "strategic partnership" and the press release offers contacts from only one side of the deal then you should be skeptical. Indeed it can hardly be strategic if only one side comments.
There are other strategic partnerships announced by Trina. In all cases there is no contact given for the "strategic partner", for they once announced a strategic partnership in Italy.
I am going to be blunt. The Origin press release has as much substance as Bronte's "strategic partnership" with Guinness. I have no idea about the other strategic arrangements but Trina says some strange things about Italy. For instance in the last conference call the chief operating officer said:
I have been waiting for Italy since I got here. So, we are actually seeing some good activity finally. And we have some pickup in activity. We see it. Obviously, our historic Italian account is at the utilities. We also see Spanish accounts that a lot of them actually served projects there. So, after much waiting and unclarity, we are seeing some pickup in demand. There is – we still have a mix of utility projects in commercial rooftop there. And so what we are seeing moved quicker was the stuff that was utility that was finishing off and now it’s blending into commercial rooftop.
It is possible that Italy was taking off just as he said this - but it seemed unlikely to us. After all the banks in Southern Europe were under sharply increasing financial stress at precisely the time of this conference call and funding for long term projects (like solar) was drying up. I did not believe the statement. Maybe it was true - but there is a problem with statements about insignificant "strategic partnerships". Those statements predispose you to not believe further statements.
So here is what I believe. I believe Trina is burning cash increasingly fast. So fast that it is in deep trouble.
Trina, through operating cash burn and capital expenditure chewed through $136 million last quarter. I blogged the calculation here. Chinese banks funded this.
The average selling price during the quarter was $1.46 per watt (reference given here).
The prices per watt have fallen to $1.10 or below when priced wholesale.
So revenue per watt is running 36c lower than during the quarter.
The costs per watt have dropped too. Polysilicon has dropped from say $48 to $38 per kilogram - but exact numbers are hard to find. At 6 grams per watt the costs per watt thus dropped 6c. Efficiency gains add another 2c reduction in costs per watt.
Nonetheless margin per watt will be 28c per watt lower than last quarter.
Production is going to be (at least) 450 million watts - so aggregate margin is going to be $112 million lower than last quarter.
There won't be any tax paid - or anything like that - but the company looks like it will burn through $136 million plus $112 million in cash - more if stuff keeps accumulating in warehouses - less if the hard-selling they are doing actually works.
$248 million per quarter - or roughly a billion dollars a year is a little bit much for Trina to bear.
Unless there is something dramatically wrong with my calculation Trina is doomed. Not even a Chinese bank comes at a billion a year funding requirement just to stay in business.
Now of course all of this is my estimates. I can only go on public information and my own inquiry and my own analysis. I wish I could just use Trina's statements but - and it might just be the PR people who have done this - Trina has devalued its statements with overblown puff pieces about "strategic partnerships".
But I have trouble trusting Trina. And you should have trouble trusting me. I am effectively short the stock. Besides, I have just entered into a very enjoyable "strategic partnership" with Diageo.
And I might just have another Guinness.