(Reuters) - Chinese solar panel maker Trina Solar Ltd TSL.N reported a fifth straight quarterly loss and cut its full-year shipment outlook for the second time in four months as it struggles with weak panel prices and faces import duties in the United States.
The United States earlier this month imposed duties on billions of dollars of solar equipment imports from China, compounding problems for companies such as Trina, who have been hit by a near 75 percent drop in panel prices in the last four years.
Demand dropped in top market Europe even as companies rapidly scaled up capacity, creating a glut that sent panel prices into a tailspin and eroded margins across the industry.
Trina said in September that it would separate its photovoltaic module and systems units to reduce costs, and warned that it would cut an unspecified number of jobs.
The company said on Tuesday it had reduced headcount during the quarter but did not specify the size of the job cuts.
Several solar companies, including No.1 panel maker Suntech Power Holdings STP.N, SunPower Corp (SPWR.O) and LDK Solar Co Ltd LDK.N, have slashed jobs this year.
“We will continue to identify cost reductions into 2013,” Chief Financial Officer Terry Wang said on a conference call with analysts.
Trina said it was looking at generating 20 percent of 2013 gross revenue from its projects systems business, which develops and builds power plants.
Smaller peer Canadian Solar Inc (CSIQ.O) last week said it was looking towards the more lucrative business of building power plants to drive growth.
Trina has signed power purchase agreements for about 100 megawatts (MW) to 200 MW of utility scale projects in the United States, CFO Wang said.
The company has also inked framework agreements with local municipal governments in China for multi-year power plant development projects. The projects are likely to be built in 2013 and 2014.
“We’ve seen just about every module producer talk about moving downstream into the project business. I think it will be more difficult than a lot of the commentary we’re hearing,” said Raymond James analyst Alex Morris.
“In the U.S., for example, there simply may not be as many opportunities at large utility-scale projects as there were in the past.”
Trina shares fell 6 percent to $2.26 in early trading on Tuesday. The stock has lost nearly two-thirds of its value this year.
Trina, a sponsor of the Renault Formula One team, said it expects to ship between 1.55 gigawatts (GW) and 1.6 GW of modules this year, lower than its prior forecast of 1.75 GW to 1.80 GW.
Trina, which has been slapped with combined U.S. duties of 23.75 percent, said fourth-quarter gross margin would be similar to the 0.8 percent it reported in the third quarter.
“The biggest surprise of the quarter was just how bad fourth quarter was going to be - essentially flat with third quarter levels. We had been looking for some marked improvement,” said Raymond James’ Morris.
The recently imposed U.S. tariffs apply to solar cells used to make panels. A number of Chinese companies have started sourcing cells from outside of China to avoid the duties.
Trina, however, said it expects fourth-quarter manufacturing costs to be lower than in the third quarter as it had renegotiated some of its long-term silicon supply agreements.
Non-silicon manufacturing costs in the third quarter rose by 2 cents to 54 cents per watt due to under-utilization of the company’s manufacturing capacities.
The company’s net loss widened to $57.5 million, or 81 cents per American depositary share (ADS), in the third quarter, from $31.5 million, or 45 cents per ADS, a year earlier.
Revenue fell 38 percent to $298 million.
Reporting by Swetha Gopinath in Bangalore; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Maju Samuel