UPDATE 3-Trina Solar forecasts higher shipments, margins still anemic

Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:12pm EST

* Reports sixth straight quarterly loss

* Expects panel shipments, system deliveries to rise 32 pct

* Expects first-quarter gross margin to be "low single digit"

Feb 26 (Reuters) - Chinese solar panel maker Trina Solar Ltd forecast higher shipments for the year as it looks to sell more at home and in emerging solar markets such as Japan, but stronger sales are not expected to lead to profitability as prices remain weak.

Trina reported its sixth straight quarterly loss with no end in sight to the slump in panel prices.

The company's fourth-quarter margins fell short of its expectations even as shipments outpaced its estimates due to higher sales to China-based customers.

Trina shares were down 10 percent at $4.01 on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday afternoon.

"This is what we call profitless prosperity at work," said Raymond James analyst Alex Morris. "Another quarter of decent top-line outlook, but prices are simply too low for profitability and are unlikely to meaningfully improve anytime in the foreseeable future."

Trina is expected to turn to profitability only in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Trina was encouraged by the Japanese and Chinese governments' plans to raise targets for solar power, Chief Executive Jifan Gao said.

China, the world's top energy consumer, will more than double its installed solar power capacity this year from 2012, the government said in January.

The country plans to add 10 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar power capacity this year, putting it within reach of its target of 21 GW by 2015.

Japan introduced a feed-in tariff scheme last July to help spread the use of solar and other types of clean energy in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Trina said on Tuesday it expected panel shipments and system deliveries to increase up to 32 percent to a range of 2.0 GW to 2.1 GW in 2013.

The company forecast shipments of 420 megawatt (MW) to 430 MW in the first quarter, compared with 415 MW in the fourth quarter.

Trina said it received $250 million in the fourth quarter in credit facilities from the China Development Bank Corp , a policy bank that lends at Beijing's behest.

State-run banks in China have extended 13 billion yuan to solar companies in 2012, sparking a European Commission investigation into subsidies for Chinese companies.

The United States imposed steep tariffs last year on some solar panel imports from China.

HIGH MARGIN PROJECTS

Trina expects its first-quarter overall gross margin to be a "low single digit" in percentage terms. The fourth-quarter gross margin was 1.9 percent.

Higher demand is unlikely to result in margin expansion. Companies are looking to get rid of inventory at cheap prices.

Any rise in solar prices would in itself hurt demand, spurred by cheaper products, Maxim Group analyst Aaron Chew said on Monday.

Trina, however, said it expects double-digit gross margin at its projects systems business, which develops and builds power plants, in China.

The company, which is looking to start grid-scale projects in China and the Americas this year, expects to generate 20 percent of 2013 gross revenue from its projects systems business.

Trina is developing a large-scale, multi-phase utility project in eastern China, which is expected to commence this year, and a 50 MW grid-connected solar power plant project in Wuwei, Gansu.

The company's overall gross margin has remained in single digits, in percentage terms, for the last five quarters.

Trina's net loss widened to $87.2 million, or $1.23 per American depositary share (ADS), in the fourth quarter from $65.8 million, or 93 cents per ADS, a year earlier.

Revenue fell nearly 31 percent to $302.7 million.

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