Suntech sales reach US$1.7 billion in 2009: capex, capacity and shipments to rise in 2010

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Updated: The largest crystalline silicon PV module manufacturer, Suntech Power Holdings has reported revenue figures for 2009, which were impacted by the decline of average selling price (ASP) for its PV modules. Total net revenues for the year were US$1,693.3 million, compared with US$1,923.5 million in 2008, even though shipments were up 43% compared with 2008. However, margins improved due to lower polysilicon and wafer costs. Gross profit was US$338.8 million and gross margin was 20.0% compared to consolidated gross profit of US$342.9 million and gross margin of 17.8% for the full year 2008. Suntech said it was sold-out through the first half of 2010 and would be boosting capital spending and increasing capacity, specifically for its ‘Pluto’ cell technology based modules.

Suntech was able to raise module capacity to 1.1GW in 2009, up only 100MW from 2008 on a significant reduction to capital spending plans, due to the weak demand in the first half of the year.

Being sold-out through the first half of 2010 has resulted in plans to spend US$200 million on capacity expansions and take capacity up to 1.4GW by the third quarter. The capacity expansions are being dedicated to boosting production of its Pluto technology. Suntech said that it was on track to ship 30MW of Pluto modules in the first half of 2010 and 150MW in the second half of 2010. Pluto manufacturing capacity will reach 450MW in 2010. Average conversion efficiencies of 19% on mono-crystalline PV cells and 17% on multi-crystalline PV cells in volume production were reiterated.

“In the face of a challenging environment worldwide in 2009, Suntech enhanced our customer support platforms, entered new markets, developed world-class PV innovations, and improved our balance sheet,” commented Dr. Zhengrong Shi, Suntech’s Chairman and CEO. “In 2010, these priorities will remain at the forefront as we establish our new U.S. factory, expand production capacity to 1.4GW, and continue to roll out our high efficiency Pluto technology.

“We are confident that clear customer recognition of the reliability and performance of Suntech products combined with improving affordability will continue to drive strong demand. With our industry leading scale, quality and technology we are well positioned to diversify our sales geographies and expand our market share. We currently target shipments of at least 1.25GW in 2010,” added Dr. Shi.

Total net revenues for the fourth quarter of 2009 were US$583.6 million, an increase of 23.4% from US$473.1 million in the third quarter of 2009.

In the full year 2009, capital expenditures were focused on the construction of new production facilities in Shanghai and other infrastructure projects to support expansion of Pluto capacity. Initially spending was pegged at US$100 million but full year CapEx spending reached US$142.6 million.

Update (1) In a conference call to discuss financial results, executives noted that with Pluto now in stable volume production. Work continued to bring its second generation Pluto cell technology to market. Executives said that its Gen 2 technology was producing cell efficiencies of between 20 and 21% for monocrystalline cells and 18 to 19% efficiencies for multicrystalline cells. Selective immitter technology is being used in the Gen 2 technology.

Update (2) Dr. Shi noted that due to the sold-out situation in the 1H10 period, module ASP’s would remain “quite stable” and that the impact of the German FiT changes in July, 2010 would not affect ASP declines in any “meaningful” way. Dr. Shi noted that he expected the ROI under the German FiT changes to still enable approximately an 8% return, which should not lead to a collapse in the German market.

In the fourth quarter of 2009, Suntech said that processing cost per watt, which excludes material costs had reached US$0.60 cents/watt and expected further improvements, reaching US$0.50 cents/watt by the end of the year.

Dr. Shi also noted that when its 450MW of Pluto capacity is ramped in the 1H10 its solar cell costs for the technology would be lower than its conventional cell cost per watt.

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