Date
20 August 2017
Investors appear to have regained their confidence in China's solar panel sector. Photo: Bloomberg
Investors appear to have regained their confidence in China's solar panel sector. Photo: Bloomberg

Trina raises more cash, Evergrande tries solar development

Just months after tapping financial markets for nearly US$250 million, solar panel maker Trina (TSL.US) has announced another plan to raise a similar amount as it tries to take advantage of improving sentiment towards the sector.

Such fund-raising would have been unthinkable as recently as a year ago, when recovery of the solar panel sector was far from certain following a prolonged downturn.

In a relatively positive sign, Trina’s latest fund-raising plan didn’t trigger a major sell-off in its shares, indicating investors are more confident of the company’s and the sector’s prospects.

Meantime, the sector got a nice boost with word that Hong Kong-listed real estate developer Evergrande (03333.HK) plans to get into the business of solar plant development with a major new investment.

That move isn’t hugely surprising, since China’s real estate sector is now on the cusp of a major correction that is likely to crimp demand for the kind of residential properties that Evergrande develops.

In the absence of major new residential development projects, solar power stations look like an interesting alternative to diversify the company’s business.

Both of these developments are generally positive for the solar sector, reflecting growing momentum for a new wave of solar plant building in China as Beijing offers strong incentives to encourage such construction.

I’ve previously been a bit negative on developments so far, which have seen Trina and other solar panel makers personally finance much of the new plant development. But Evergrande’s decision to enter the space could mark the start of a new trend that may see more third-party developers join the movement from the real estate and other sectors where growth is stalling.

All that said, let’s begin with a look at Trina’s latest plan that will see it raise about US$200 million through an offering of bonds and new American depositary shares (ADSs). The company will raise the money by selling US$100 million in senior convertible notes, and another seven million ADSs that could raise more than US$90 million based on the company’s latest share price.

The sale would follow a similar exercise that saw Trina raise about US$250 million through the issue of convertible notes and ADSs back in June, bringing its total fund-raising over the last four months to nearly half a billion dollars.

The company joins rivals Canadian Solar (CSIQ.US) and Yingli (YGE.US), which have also recently returned to global capital markets after a freeze-out of more than two years during a prolonged sector downturn that sent major players Suntech and LDK into bankruptcy.

The most positive thing about Trina’s latest announcement is that it didn’t spark a major sell-off of the company’s shares, which fell just 2.7 percent after the news. That’s a sharp contrast from the June fund-raising announcement, which sparked a much larger drop of nearly 10 percent.

Trina’s shares have gained back most of those losses since then, indicating investors are regaining confidence in the sector’s longer term growth prospects.

Meantime, Evergrande is reportedly set to enter the solar power development space by investing a whopping 90 billion yuan (US$14 billion) in three major solar plants over the next three years.

The investment figure looks a bit too large to me, though Evergrande does have a history of making exaggerated announcements and it’s also possible the media report isn’t completely accurate.

Regardless of the actual investment, the broader trend does look somewhat encouraging, as it indicates that some major third-party private sector players may be taking an interest in helping to fund Beijing’s ambitious plans to develop China’s solar power sector.

We’ll have to wait and see if others from slowing sectors like real estate and steel manufacturing join the trend, which could provide some nice new business for solar panel makers.

The big risk is that many of these companies have little or no experience in such development, which could lead to problems in both plant finance and construction.

Bottom line: Trina’s new plan to raise US$200 million and Evergrande’s plan to enter solar power development are both positive signs for the sector, reflecting a more sustained return of investor confidence.

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CG

A commentator on China company news and associate professor in the journalism department of Fudan University in Shanghai. Follow him on his blog at www.youngchinabiz.com.

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