Trina Solar (TSL) – Business Issues

By its nature, Trina’s business is capital intensive and lofty growth projections makes it all the more critical that the company continues to have finances in place to fund growth. Capex for the next couple of years are expected to be in the range of $250-300M while cash-on-hand is about $158M. Consequently, the company will have to generate cash by issuing more debt or equity in the upcoming months. Following the recent convertible offering Trina’s total short-term borrowings should be down to about 140M at an average interest rate of 7.3%. The existing borrowings already amount to an annual cost of almost $1 per share - it is highly likely that the company will issue equity to fund expansion and debt repayment. Margin concerns along with uncertainties regarding solar subsidies have resulted in an extended slump in the share prices of integrated solar manufacturers. Hence, a better option may possibly be for the company to wait out for a better market environment and issue equity at an opportune price-point.

Dependence on government subsidies is a major business risk for Trina Solar and is predicted to persist until about 2015. This risk has augmented to some extent in the last year as European governments started introducing bills that trim down on subsidies. Germany, the biggest market in Europe recently slashed subsidies and Spain is anticipated to follow suit. The table below represents Trina’s revenue percentage across global markets over the last three years – making it evident, subsidy reduction in Europe will have an immense impact on Trina’s business. Trina’s response has been to diversify into other global markets, especially US, aggressively in the upcoming year. It is too premature to remark on how successful this policy will be:

























Country200520062007
Germany86.542.831.4
SpainNone37.940.0
ItalyNoneNone18.1
Others-Europe10.29.67.0
China3.19.32.1
Others-Rest of the World0.20.41.4


Trina had ambitious plans to complete construction of a $1B polysilicon plant by 2012 with a capacity of 10000MT. Even at that level of investment, only a fraction of the feedstock requirements was estimated to be met with production from the plant. No doubt, this plan was a major mistake on the part of Trina’s management. They were already late in the game as projections called for a polysilicon glut in the 2012 timeframe precisely when Trina’s new plant was predicted to come online. Trina took the right approach by reneging on these plans three months after they signed an agreement with Lianyungang Municipality in China's Jiangsu Province that included government support in respect of land and electric power supply. The polysilicon plant saga has resulted in a loss of trust in the company’s management among Wall Street analysts and shareholders – checks need to be in place to avoid such missteps in the future.

Trina’s business has low barriers to entry for competitors. Specifically, polysilicon based solar module manufacturing is labor intensive and requires limited technology. At the moment, supply chain management and financial strengths are the key barriers to entry. Should polysilicon feedstock prices go into freefall, the whole industry can become over saturated with mushrooming of solar module production facilities with low capital outlay. The counter argument is that when polysilicon prices decline drastically, demand should pick up at a very good rate in its turn and be able to absorb the excess solar module production. Trina is yet to adequately address this problem.

Trina is exposed to currency risks as most of their sales are denominated in Euros or US dollars with the rest in Renminbi (RMB) while most of their costs and expenses are denominated in US dollars and the rest in Renminbi. The risks are unhedged and affect the bottom line directly. In particular, during the 1st quarter of 2008, Trina reported $4M in such losses and for the 2nd quarter of 2008, the projection is for another $3Min the same category. The losses are primarily associated with Trina China's non-US-denominated obligations that are now required to be remeasured in the US dollar functional currency. This is an ongoing business issue for Trina and hedging to neutralize such risks is the right strategy. They should implement such a plan as quickly as possible.

Trina Analysis:

1. Trina Solar (TSL) - Part 1 - Introduction.
2. Trina Solar (TSL) - Part 2 - Business Issues.
3. Trina Solar (TSL) - Part 3 - Outlook.

Related Posts:

1. Trina Solar (TSL) - Stock Analysis - 08/08.
2. LDK Solar (LDK) - Stock Analysis - 03/08.
3. Solar Manufacturer Comparison (STP, TSL, YGE, CSIQ) - 11/07.
4. Suntech Power Holdings (STP) - Stock Analysis - 09/07.


Camping at Brannan Island State Park, CA – Review

This State Park is located in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta just 3 miles south of Rio Vista on Highway 160. Advance reservations can be made from their website ReserveAmerica. By phone, reservations can be made up to several months in advance. For weekend stays, reserving a spot two months in advance is advised. Thursdays-Sundays are generally fully booked making walk-in an outside chance.

When we last camped in 2008, there was a $7.50 non-refundable reservation fee. Family campsites were priced at $20 per night through August and dropped to $15 per night from September. Electrical hookups were not available on these sites (Cottonwood) but there were about ten other sites (Olympic) with electrical hookups available for $28 per night. There were also four group day use sites available at $40 per day. The day use area was also available for $5 per vehicle.

The campground is located by the side of a 3-mile slough, off the 3-mile bridge located on the way from Antioch to Rio Vista on Highway 160. The summer temperature in the area varies between 65 and 85, but wind is a powerful force especially in the night. It can be so ferocious that it pays to pitch tent at places with more protection.

Fishing and river access (slough) are the main recreational options for campers. Families will also enjoy recreational hiking in the area. For real fishing enthusiasts, the better option is the Franks Tract, five miles southeast of Brannan Island, accessible only by boat. The marsh area located in a flooded island provides an exceptionally productive fishing option.

The facility was well maintained although it was mentioned that the total staff count in the campsite reduced from about forty to five due to California budget cuts. This had affected the quality of many of the services such as programs at the campfire center. Even so, it was an enjoyable weekend stay for us at this site.

Last Updated: 02/2011. 

Frugal Living - Top ten frugal living tips for families

For the uninitiated, many frugal approaches can be misconstrued as being cheap. Any act with a potential for savings in time and funds merits a pondering. Below is our compilation of frugal tips. Analyzing against our definition makes their frugality apparent.
  1. Self-haircuts – Contrary to the popular belief nurtured by smart marketing folks that portray self-haircuts as being contemptible and comical at best, it is an easily acquired skill that can save both time and money perpetually.
  2. Saying no to cable TV – This is a deviation from the condescending attitude epitomized by talking heads on TV ‘poor people that cannot afford cable TV’ as though economical classification hinges on cable TV. The subscription style expense coupled with its potential to squander time makes this high in the frugal list.
  3. Lifeline service for telephone, and switching to a pay as you use cell phone service –These options allow switching from a subscription style expense to one directly linked to usage.
  4. No-gift parties, re-giving gifts, and developing a culture of no gifts (including Santa Claus stuff) in the household – Gifts by nature are not efficient as someone else is using their valuable time and resource to decide your needs. This measure applies to both gift giving and receiving. A gift card at a retail place is a great alternative in situations were one cannot avoid it.
  5. Saving reusable plates, forks etc. from take out vendors – Reusing these items as opposed to throwing them away helps the environment while being frugal.
  6. Shopping selectively at dollar stores, craigslist, garage sales, etc – These options have the possibility to limit spending yet maintain the standard of living. Exercising a little patience while browsing for your needs goes a long way.
  7. Buying only from the bargain aisles at department stores –Bargain aisles hold surprises up their sleeve.
  8. Comparison shopping at online stores and waiting on the wish-listed items – Prices do fluctuate up and down and that too again and again.
  9. Going for homemade coffee, minimizing eat-outs, take outs, etc. – This is the oft-touted homerun of a frugal tip by pundits. If your family appreciates the ambience of a dine-out, it is perfectly fine to switch from the norm to mark achievements and such.
  10. Local library – The biggest underused resource are the public libraries. They offer a myriad of services. Donate useful books to the library and the time you can spare to give back to the community.
Some options such as maxing out on all insurance deductibles help save significant money by taking a little bit of additional risk.

Related Posts:
  1. Frugal Living – Ten Great Gift Ideas for Frugal Families (Christmas Holiday Shopping Tips).
  2. Frugal Living – Skiing Story.
  3. Frugal Choice On Gifts - Giving Stock Certificates.
  4. Frugal vs Cheap – A definition to go by.
  5. Frugal Living - Top ten frugal living tips for families.
  6. Reducing Expenses.
Last Updated: 06/2011. 

Trina Solar (TSL) – Introduction

Trina Solar a Chinese Solar module manufacturer incorporated in Cayman Islands had an initial public offering (IPO) of their American Depository Shares (ADS) on December 2006 – each ADS representing 100 ordinary shares. The follow-on offering was on June 2007. Combined they totaled roughly 11M shares. At IPO time, the shares traded at around $20 per share. In July 2007, following the announcement of several solar module contract wins in Europe, the share price peaked at $71 per ADS. The current relatively small float of only about 21M shares makes them especially volatile.

As elaborated in our article that compares vertically integrated solar manufacturers, Trina is one of the few fully integrated polysilicon based solar manufacturers. Their standard monocrystalline solar modules range from 160 watts to 185 watts and multicrystalline solar modules range from 190 W to 220 W in power output. Initial production lines were for monocrystalline solar modules, and in November 2007, production began on multicrystalline modules. Though multicrystalline modules tout lower production costs it is to some extent offset by lesser conversion efficiency. For e.g., Trina’s conversion efficiency for monocrystalline and multicrystalline-based products are expected to approach 17% and 15.3% respectively by the end of 2008.

Trina Solar enjoyed tremendous growth in the past five years. Revenue soared from just over $2.7M in 2003 to over $300M in 2007 accounting for an impressive compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 225%. This growth rate is expected to be maintained. Revenue for 2008 is projected to be 770-808M range representing a year-over-year (YOY) growth in the range of 155-170%. For a billion dollar company, growth in those ranges is remarkable. Net margin however has come down from the 20% range in 2003 to the low-teens in 2007 and is anticipated to remain low for 2008.

Polysilicon the base raw material used in the integrated value chain by Trina Solar has seen a multi-fold price hike from the $50-60 range to the $400 range due to increased demand. This has led most solar companies to procure polysilicon from silicon recycling facilities. By using a proprietary mixing mechanism they are able to fabricate solar modules of the same specifications as those produced by the virgin polysilicon sourced modules. This held down the costs during the initial months, but when recycled polysilicon pricing amplified in its turn, all associated advantage disappeared. The Holy Grail with regards to poly pricing is in the offing as a large number of poly production plants are expected to come online in the 2009-2010 timeframe improving supply. Margin contraction over the years can be fully traced back to an increasing pattern of polysilicon sourcing costs combined with a relatively steady average selling price (ASP).

Trina Analysis:

1. Trina Solar (TSL) - Part 1 - Introduction.
2. Trina Solar (TSL) - Part 2 - Business Issues.
3. Trina Solar (TSL) - Part 3 - Outlook.

Related Posts:

1. Trina Solar (TSL) - Stock Analysis - 08/08.
2. LDK Solar (LDK) - Stock Analysis - 03/08.
3. Solar Manufacturer Comparison (STP, TSL, YGE, CSIQ) - 11/07.
4. Suntech Power Holdings (STP) - Stock Analysis - 09/07.

Exec-proofing – Part 2 - Gauging Executive Compensation In The Companies in Our Portfolio

Below is an evaluation of executive compensation of the companies in our portfolio, that uses the ratio of CEO compensation to revenue per employee as discussed in our previous post on this topic. The figures in the spreadsheet are taken from Yahoo Company Profiles, aflcio, and ExecutiveDisclosure.com websites unless otherwise noted:



Portfolio CompanyCEOCEO CompensationRatioComments
Advantage Energy Fund (AAV)Kelly I. Drader$169,641.002.12None.
Aegon N.V. (AEG)Donald J. Shepard$924,642.0011.55This is the most recent figure available for Don Shepard who has since then retired.
Anthracite Capital (AHR)Christopher A. MilnerNANABlackRock manages Anthracite’s operations for a fee making the ratios irrelevant.
TD Ameritrade (AMTD)Joseph H. Moglia$1,000,000.0012.50SEC filings show total compensation including stock options at $9,929,142.
Central Europe & Russia Fund (CEE)Michael G. Clark, Jr.NA NAAs a Closed End Mutual Fund, the figures are irrelevant.
Click Software (CKSW)Moshe Benbassat$265,000.003.31None.
LM Ericsson (ERIC)Carl-Henric Svanberg$3,351,900.0041.89None.
Harvest Energy (HTE)John Zahary$315,844.003.95None.
ICICI Bank (IBN)K.V.Kamath$578,585.007.23None.
IRobot (IRBT)Colin Angle$324,820.004.06None.
Itron Inc. (ITRI)LeRoy D. Nosbaum$650,000.008.13SEC filings show total compensation including stock options at $1,497,575.
Kraft Foods (KFT)Irene B. Rosenfeld$1,375,000.0017.19None.
LDK Solar (LDK)Xiaofeng PengNCNCCEO Xiaofeng Peng is the founder of the company.
MCG Capital (MCGC)Steve Tunney Sr.$500,000.006.25SEC filings show total compensation including stock options at a shocking $2,620,182.00.
Altria (MO)Michael Szymanczyk$1,115,200.0013.94None.
Plum Creek Timber (PCL)Rick R. Holley$800,000.0010.00None.
Pfizer Inc. (PFE)Jeffrey B. Kindler$4,562,500.0057None.
Philip Morris International (PM)Louis C. Camilleri$1,750,000.0021.88SEC filings show total compensation including stock options at an outrageous $33,992,344.
Patni Computers (PTI)Narendra K. Patni$1,282,887.0016Narendra K. Patni is the founder with a significant ownership stake in the company. Compensation source: Business week profile.
Suntech Power (STP)Zhengrong Shi$552,975.006.90Zhengrong Shi is the founder with a considerable ownership stake in the company.
Taiwan Semi (TSM)Rick TsaiNANANone.




The ratios are all over the map, but findings worth mentioning are:
  • Correlation between CEO salaries and the market capitalization of the companies concerned. Though this correlation does not logically hold water, there exists the illusion that companies with higher market caps are capable of “affording” higher salaries. Executive salaries being high have the consequence of fewer earnings for the company, which is one of the downsides of owning large capitalization stocks. Over the long-term the situation should alleviate as companies opt to have salary caps place for the benefit of shareholders.
  • MCG Capital CEO Steve Tunney, Sr. earned almost 25 times the average worker when stock options are included. This is extreme given MCG is a small-cap and is struggling at the moment, presumably due to management missteps.
  • Patni Computers CEO Narendra K. Patni is a founder and owns almost 17% of the company. He also has a very lofty salary earning a basic compensation 16 times the average worker. Simply put, this is avarice. Given the ownership stake, it is obvious that he is looting from his own assets, with the added benefit of being able to seize it all rather than having to share with shareholders. This is in stark contrast to some of the other companies in our portfolio - Click Software, iRobot Inc, LDK Solar, and Suntech power all have founders as the CEO and all of them own significant portions of the company. However, their take home pay is somewhat in line with skill level with the ratios ranging from 3.31 to 6.9.
  • In general, CEO pay is lower in companies based outside the US.

Related Posts:

  1. Exec-proofing – Part 1 – Avoiding Companies That Suffer From Excessive Executive Pay
  2. Exec-proofing – Part 2 - Gauging Executive Compensation In The Companies in Our Portfolio.
Last Updated: 10/2008. 

Frugal Living - Frugal vs Cheap – A definition to go by

Frugal and cheap are two words considered by many as synonyms while they differ greatly in the meaning they render. Cheap is when one values the money saved more than an associated loss while frugal points to the contrary. Here are everyday encounters of cheap and frugal actions to nail the definition:
  1. Paring down a bill among friends at a restaurant to justify the difference in spending. The loss associated with this action can range from a decline in goodwill among one’s own friends to even losing a friend. This loss is not worth the few dollars saved. Volunteering to split-up the bill in this situation would be a corresponding frugal action and would be considered a no-brainer at best.
  2. Bargaining on an item listed at a throwaway price at a garage sale. Here again, at the expense of goodwill, you could fail to purchase the item because the seller would rather not deal with you. Happily purchasing the item and/or adding a small tip would be a related frugal action in this situation.
  3. Spending 2 hours to save $2 (coupon clipping, driving long distance, etc.). Failing to recognize the time value of money. Science has a long way to go before we can turn back time. A matching frugal action would be to plan shopping around bargains.
Related Posts on Frugal Living:

  1. Frugal Living – Ten Great Gift Ideas for Frugal Families (Christmas Holiday Shopping Tips).
  2. Frugal Living – Skiing Story.
  3. Frugal Choice On Gifts - Giving Stock Certificates.
  4. Frugal vs Cheap – A definition to go by.
  5. Frugal Living - Top ten frugal living tips for families.
  6. Reducing Expenses.
Related Posts on Exiting the Rat Race:
  1. Exiting the Rat Race - Definition.
  2. Rat Race Exit Strategies
  3. Passive Income - Part 1 - Network Marketing.
  4. Passive Income - Part 2 - Royalties
  5. Passive Income - Part 3 - Rental Income
  6. Passive Income - Part 4 - Dividends.
  7. Passive Income - Part 5 - Pension Plans
  8. Passive Income - Part 6 - Employer Plans
  9. Strategies to Beat Inflation.
  10. Strategies to Reduce Expenses.
  11. Frugal Living - A Definition to go by

Last Updated: 06/2011.

    Exec-proofing – Part 1 – Avoiding Companies That Suffer From Excessive Executive Pay

    The raison d'être behind this approach is to ensure that we steer clear of companies that experience diminished shareholder returns when company executives and the board of directors work together to augment themselves as opposed to the company’s shareholders. Executive compensation and the excessive nature of it is a very complex topic and numerous factors guide executive compensation up at a much faster pace than that of rank-and-file workers on an average basis. Further, the base numbers are hundred-fold higher for executives as compared to average workers in corporations.

    Below is a look at several popular alternatives for gauging executive pay and how they come up short when it comes to effectiveness. This is also an attempt to debunk several myths about executive compensation:
    1. Let market forces determine the level of compensation: This alternative essentially makes the argument that there is no problem as market forces guide compensation. Should that be true, the counter point would be that the bigger and more profitable companies would always have at their helm the highest skilled CEO’s, a point that can easily be refuted.
    2. CEO pay should parallel company performance: Getting paid a significant percentage from the earnings generated is presumably valid. However, there is a huge misunderstanding in such a thought process – the individual concerned usually owns a significant portion of the company’s outstanding shares making it possible for them to participate at that level on the company’s earnings anyway. Issuing salary commensurate with earnings or its growth there of is essentially double dipping on a very large scale. This is especially true when the CEO happens to be a founder.
    3. Use the CEO’s track record as a measure of pay: While it is common for Wall Street to label CEO’s as “turnaround stars” and “growth stars” the problem is usually that such “stars” usually demand (and get) a premium that far exceeds the additional value that their track record brings to the company.
    4. Compare the ratio of the average executive pay to the CEO compensation in the company: This is counter-intuitive as the executive team generally holds an unfair edge compared to rank and file workers. Therefore, in the companies that have a problem with excess compensation, it is highly likely to find a correlation where the other executives are also enjoying excessive compensation making it a bigger problem as far as shareholder value goes.
    A gauge of executive compensation that makes a lot of sense to us is comparing CEO compensation with the average pay across the company - the higher that number, the more the company has a problem with excessive compensation. This gauge ignores such factors as the size of the company, profitability, and earnings growth but instead focuses on the disparity of pay. The main idea with this gauge is recognizing that, in an ideal world, all employees get to participate in the success of the company they work for, albeit on a scale that is commensurate with skill-level.

    The gauge favors companies that encourage a career path that ends at the CEO level as opposed to hiring from outside - the SEC filings for the last five years can be used to come up with a figure for average annual CEO compensation and divide it with the average compensation of the rest of the employees in the company. Needless to say, such an exercise is time consuming to compile. A similar measure that has most of the characteristics of this but less difficult to compile is to compare CEO compensation with the average worker wage of roughly $20/hour.


    Related Posts:

    1. Exec-proofing – Part 1 – Avoiding Companies That Suffer From Excessive Executive Pay
    2. Exec-proofing – Part 2 - Gauging Executive Compensation In The Companies in Our Portfolio.
    Last Updated: 10/2008. 

     

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