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Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. (NYSE:STP)

Q1 2010 Earnings Call

June 3, 2010 8:00 a.m. ET

Executives

Rory Macpherson - Director, IR

Zhengrong Shi - Chairman & CEO

Steven Chan - President of America and CSO

Stuart Wenham - CTO

Amy Zhang - CFO

Ian Tu - Senior Financial Analyst

Analysts

Burt Chao - Simmons Incorporated

Vishal Shah - Barclays Capital

Rob Stone - Cowen & Company

Sanjay Shrestha - Lazard

Nitin Kumar - Nomura Singapore

Edwin Mok - Needham & Company

Gary Hsueh - Oppenheimer & Company

Pranab Sarmah - Daiwa Capital Markets

Sunil Gupta - Morgan Stanley

Dan Ries - Collins Stewart

Gordon Johnson - Hapoalim

Sam Dubinsky - Wells Fargo

Pavel Molchanov - Raymond James

Paul Leming - Soleil Securities

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the first quarter 2010 Suntech Power earnings conference call. (Operator Instructions)

I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. Rory Macpherson, Investor Relations Director. Please proceed.

Rory Macpherson

Hello, everyone and welcome to Suntech's first quarter 2010 earnings conference call. My name is Rory Macpherson, Suntech's Director of Investor Relations. From Suntech, we have Dr. Zhengrong Shi, Suntech's Chairman and CEO; Steven Chan, President of America and Chief Strategy Officer; Dr. Stuart Wenham, Suntech's Chief Technology Officer; Amy Zhang, our Chief Financial Officer. Also, Senior Financial Analyst, Ian Tu, will participate in the Q&A following Dr. Shi's closing remarks.

Before we continue, during the conference call, we will make certain forward-looking statements in an effort to assist you in understanding the company and its results. The forward-looking statements will be made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the U.S. Private Securities Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements involve inherent risks and uncertainties. As such, Suntech's future results may be materially different from the views expressed today. A number of potential risks and uncertainties are outlined in our earnings release issued today and our SEC filings. Suntech does not undertake any obligation to update any forward-looking statements except as required under applicable law.

To enhance our presentation of information and data during this conference call, we have provided a set of PowerPoint slides which we will refer to as management delivers their prepared remarks. This presentation is posted on the main page of the Investors section of our website.

As a reminder, this conference call is being recorded and a webcast replay will also be available on the Investor Relations section of Suntech's website after this call. Please make note that all figures mentioned during the conference call are in U.S. dollars.

I will now turn the call over to Suntech's Chairman and CEO, Dr. Zhengrong Shi.

Zhengrong Shi

Hello and thank you for joining us.

Please turn to slide 3. We are pleased to deliver top-line revenue of $588 million in the first quarter of 2010, slightly higher than the revenue in the fourth quarter of 2009 and over 86% higher than the first quarter of 2009. This was driven by a 11% sequential increase in Pluto shipments, as we added incremental capacity to work our middle-year target of 1.4 gigawatts. Blended gross margin was 19.5% at the high end of guidance. Earnings came in at $20.7 million or $0.11 per diluted ADS.

Today, I would like to start by giving an overview of the first quarter as well as our expectations for market demand in Europe and Asia over the next few quarters. I will then discuss our strategy that we are implementing to improve our operations and the best solar customers in different regions. Steven will discuss recent developments in North America. Stuart will give you an update on our technology, and Amy will provide color on our financial results.

As you can see on slide 4, during the first quarter, we reached another important milestone for the company as we shipped over 10 million solar panels. Solar energy generated from Suntech's panels alone is enough to power over 1 million households, which is a huge contribution towards gridding of our energy supply, although it is small when compared to the task ahead.

For solar to truly make a difference, we need to expand the industry several times over and develop channel to countries all over the world. We are confident that Suntech has the strategy in place to maintain our leadership position and to drive this energy evolution.

The current level of demand driven by productive national solar policies is an encouraging sign that governments recognize the need to develop alternative energy sources. With attractive investment return in solar projects in most markets, we expect the strong demand to continue throughout the rest of 2010.

Turning to slide 5, our extensive European value-added reseller network (audio gap) for Suntech, with all of our panels across Europe having achieved significant growth in the first quarter. The outlook of our VAR clients for the second quarter and the rest of the year remains very robust. This is partly due to the fact that VARs serve (more go-to) markets, giving them the flexibility to shift emphasis with changed market condition.

Furthermore, Suntech continues to build strong relationships and the dividend for blue-chip clients within the utility and the project sector. These companies have a combination of excellent track records and experience in energy infrastructure business, access to both existing and emerging markets, as well as carrying a secure, strong financial base and the global footprint.

One of these clients is Solarhybrid that recently connected the 24.5 megawatt Finnow Tower project at the former military airbase in Germany that we have been working for over a year. This project employed over 90,000 Suntech panels and is one of the five biggest PV projects in Germany.

Sales to Europe represented 68% of the Pluto shipments compared to 73% in the fourth quarter of 2009. This is reflective of the trend towards global certification of solar market, driven primarily by a rapidly increasing demand in North America and Asia. This is a welcome trend, particularly in light of fast and a dramatic depreciation of the euro against other major currencies.

While it is difficult to respond to sudden currency fluctuations, Suntech is committed to improving our natural hedging over the long term through market and a supply diversification and potentially global locations for manufacturing.

Amy will discuss our financial hedging strategy shortly.

We have impending feed-in tariff costs in July. German demand has been extremely strong in the first half of the year, and even after FIT cut we expect a return on investment for rooftop projects. We grew back to historic levels of approximately 8%.

So while we expect total market demand in Germany to soften slightly in the third quarter, demand for Suntech products is still very high, and we expect to be able to maintain our euro ASP at current levels. Therefore in Europe, the Italian, French, Czech and the Belarus markets continue to be important markets for Suntech, and a very clear recognition that the Suntech brand represents superior reliability, performance and quality.

In addition, Suntech recently received official certification under the U.K. Microgeneration Certification Scheme for most popular module, a prerequisite for selling solar panels. So we expect to start building our market share there in the second half of this year.

Please turn to slide 6. Revenue from Asia grew from 10% of our total sales in the fourth quarter of 2009 to 14% in the first quarter of 2010. This was offset by strong demand from China and Japan, two markets that are showing excellent signs of long term growth.

With our system integration capability and a leadership in China and our strong distribution partners in Japan, we believe we will continue to outperform our competitors in this market. In addition, with strong brand recognition and (the recent rules) in Australia, we are continuing to gain ground in that market.

Our ability to create robust channels to market is one of Suntech's key differentiators, and is reflective of our prior regional sales and customer recognition of Suntech's track record, quality, performance, and technology credentials. As the global market for solar expands and diversifies, we expect to leverage this proven expertise to rapidly access and gain market share in emerging markets.

ASPs fell by about 14% sequentially in the fourth quarter, was partially due to a lower pricing structure we introduced in January 2010, and further exacerbated by the weakening euro. In the second quarter of 2010, we expect ASPs to fall by low single-digit percentage, which is almost entirely due to euro depreciation.

With our capacity fully booked, and a robust management middle-term, we have moved forward with our capacity expansion, reaching 1.2 gigawatt of our PV cell and more grid capacity at the end of the first quarter.

We are well on track to achieve 1.4 gigawatt by the middle of 2010. Our capacity is being added at two locations; the first is at our headquarters campus in Wuxi, the second is at our Shanghai manufacturing facility. Stuart will update you on both those capacity in few moments.

A key element of our expansion strategy is to maintain clear leadership, and we believe this gives us the ability to broaden our customer base and benefit from enhanced buying power and other economics of scale benefits. While Wuxi is the heart of our operations, our manufacturing facility in Shanghai will be another plant for expansion.

We have delayed our expansion of thin film manufacturing and are utilizing the space to add our advanced crystalline silicon technology. We plan to add 1 gigawatt PV cells and the module manufacturing capacity in Shanghai within the next three years.

Now, before I turn to Steven Chan, I would give you a quick update on our investment in Global Solar Fund. After the fourth quarter earning call we announced that GSF have received fund commitment from all of the six banks involved in project financing for the first set of projects. As of today, GSF has signed final facility agreement, met all the conditions precedent, and expect drawdown to occur within the coming weeks.

While the financing for the first set of projects has been delayed, we are confident that GSF really drove this issue and that it will become a successful investment for Suntech. GSF is part of Suntech's longer term strategy to strengthen our expertise in project development and other downstream initiatives.

Our system integration initiative in China, U.S. distributor network, and in Europe via our Partner Program, all fall into this category. Aside from the 40 megawatt under development, GSF has additional 200 megawatt of fully permitted projects that when developed will provide a stable stream of revenue.

We will continue to update you on our GSF investment in coming quarters.

Now, I would like to turn the call to Steven Chan to update you on our North American initiative. Steve?

Steven Chan

Thank you, Dr. Shi. Please turn to slide 7. During the quarter, we continued to gain traction in all segments of the U.S. solar market. According to information provided by the California Solar Initiative, we have consistently built our market share in California's solar market from 5% in 2008 to 13% in 2009 and 18% so far in 2010.

California's market accounted for roughly 45% of solar sales in North America in 2009, and we believe it is fairly representative of the market share in the residential and commercial PV segments.

This excellent result is largely due to the expansion of our dealer network, which has grown from 30 dealers at the end of 2008 to more than 200 currently. It is also due to customer recognition that Suntech provides one of the most competitive offerings in the industry, with an excellent combination of performance, price and reliability that's backed by one of the best track records in the industry.

While residential demand continues to grow at a relatively stable pace, we are seeing really strong growth for 5 megawatt to 10 megawatt projects for our commercial and utility customers. We believe that this type of solar plant is a sweet spot for the North American solar market, as you can generate economies of scale and locate the plant close to centers of electricity consumption without needing to add costly transmission lines. These projects are a good stepping stone for the mega-sized utility projects that are still in the pipeline, but should move forward in 2011 and beyond.

Turning to our new U.S. manufacturing plant in Goodyear, Arizona, the sit-out is progressing on schedule and we plan to begin production there towards the end of the year. We are looking forward to selling products from this plant soon thereafter.

To sum up, we feel that the U.S. market is starting to mature and will exhibit strong and relatively stable growth over the mid-to-long term. More importantly, we are confident that we have the right strategy to address the needs of our different customers and improve our position in the North American market.

We are on track to meet our goal of more than tripling Suntech's sales to the U.S. in 2010. And based on the projections from market side, this should give Suntech approximately 20% market share, up from 15% last year.

Now, I would like to turn to Dr. Stuart Wenham for an update on our technology.

Stuart Wenham

(audio gap) Our ongoing development of Pluto technology is working very positively. We have gained a great deal of experience since we began to produce commercial quantity of Pluto cells and IECs. Currently, the average efficiency of Pluto mono cells in mass production is above 19% and as high as 19.5%. This is already significantly higher than the industry average conversion efficiency for mono PV cells of 13.5%.

In terms of run rate, we are now manufacturing around 4 megawatts of IEC certified Pluto modules per month. With regard to capacity expansion, we are on target to reach 450 megawatts of Pluto enabled production capacity by the middle of 2010.

In the course of ramping Pluto production to levels well above the current 4 megawatts per month, we have identified some process control challenges in module production. To maintain quality whilst we address these challenges, we have decided to maintain our production at a level of 4 megawatts per month. This work is progressing very well, and we will update you on the ramp of Pluto production on our next earnings call.

Given that market demand is extremely high at the moment, this will also enable our production team to maximize the output of conventional solar panels due to the compatibility of our new production lines with both technologies. We continue to receive overwhelming interest in Pluto from our customers, and I'm fully confident that Pluto will become our core product and an industry benchmark for high-performance and cost-effective solar panels.

Beside from direct development of our Pluto technology, we continue to invest in complementary technology development that has the potential to push efficiency up and cost down. We are pleased to announce two significant initiatives on this front.

Firstly, we just launched the Victoria-Suntech Advanced Solar Facility, a collaboration with the Swinburne University of Technology. This facility has been partially funded by a $3 million grant under the Victorian Science Agenda Investment Fund (audio gap) and commercialize nanoplasmonic solar cell technology.

Secondly, we were recently awarded a $5 million grant by the Australian Solar Institute to collaborate with the University of New South Wales and Silex Solar to develop high-efficiency (audio gap) target grid parity generation of electricity from photovoltaics.

Both technology streams are complementary to our Pluto technology and will be invaluable in extending Suntech's international leadership as one of the true innovators in the industry.

I will now turn over to Amy Zhang for her financial review.

Amy Zhang

Thank you, Stuart. Hello to everyone on the call. Please turn to slide 9 for the first of several slides on our financial results. Net revenue for the first quarter was $588 million, representing sequential growth of 0.8% and 86% growth year-over-year.

Gross profit and margin fell from $148.7 million and $22.8 million in the fourth quarter to $114.5 million and 19.5% in the first quarter of 2010. Gross margin on the core wafer to module business was 22.1%.

As discussed in the Q4 earnings call, the sequential decline in the gross margin was primarily due to an adjustment of our pricing in the first quarter combined with substantial depreciation of the euro versus the U.S. dollar, which fell by about 6% during the quarter.

Silicon wafer costs, including inventory impact, fell about 10% sequentially, and our non-silicon costs were flat at $0.56 per watt. We're on track to achieve our target of US$0.50 per watt for non-silicon costs by the end of 2010. To help with comparisons to some of our peers, please note that non-silicon costs include the cost of all non-silicon materials, processing and depreciation, but excludes site charge and share-based.

Operating expenses for the first quarter of 2010 were $51 million or 8.7% of revenue, similar to total operating expenses for the fourth quarter of 2009. Within operating expenses, G&A expenses rose by about 18% sequentially due to additional investments in building our European regional headquarters and a one-time donation of solar cells for the value of $1.9 million to support the Suntech innovation competition in China.

In the fourth quarter of 2009, R&D expenses included approximately $4 million that was one-time in nature. As a result, the R&D expenses fell by about 26% sequentially to $9.6 million in the first quarter of 2010.

Income from operations was $63.5 million and operating margin was 10.8% in the first quarter of 2010 compared to $87 million and operating margin of 14.9% in the fourth of 2009.

Net interest expenses fell to $22.6 million in the first quarter of 2010 from $24.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2009. Please note that $8.6 million of this was non-cash interest expenses which was mainly due to accounting treatment of our convertible note. The decrease in interest expenses was primarily due to the repurchase of the significant majority of the outstanding 0.25% convertible senior notes due 2012 which had a put option in February 2010.

While the demand environment and other solar fundamentals continued to improve in the first quarter, the depreciation of the euro created a headwind to earnings. In the first quarter, we recognized a $24.5 million foreign exchange loss. This was primarily a result of the reduction in valuation of certain euro-denominated current assets such as accounts receivables and cash and cash equivalents.

The FX losses incurred were due to 6% depreciation of the euro against the U.S. dollar from the end of Q4 2009 to the end of first quarter 2010. We estimate our net current asset euro exposure in the second quarter will be around €350 million.

The FX loss in the first quarter was partially offset by a gain from hedging activity of around 2.6 million. Foreign exchange loss net of hedging gains were approximately 21.7 million in the first quarter of 2010, equivalent to $0.12 per share.

Going forward, we have implemented a number of measures to minimize the risk of further currency fluctuations. These include increasing our market diversification, reducing working capital assets denominated in euro as much as possible, increasing the hedged percentage of euro exposure to around 65% in the second quarter and target to hedge at a similar level for the rest of the year. Lastly, we intend to increase procurement in euro-denominated contracts where possible.

For the second quarter, we have hedged around 65% of net euro exposure at an average rate of US$1.26 per euro.

Earnings from affiliates, which were primarily due to increase in profitability of certain wafer companies that we have invested in, were $4.6 million in the first of 2010 compared to $0.3 million in the fourth quarter 2009.

Please note that as a result of the finalization of audit procedures at a number of our one equity investee companies, the equity in earnings of affiliates in the fourth quarter of 2009 was reduced from the $6.4 million that we reported on March 4, 2010, to $0.3 million. This updated figure was reflected in 2009 Annual Report on Form-20F that was filed on May 11.

In order to minimize the risk of this occurring again, we have requested more stringent accounting policies at certain of our investee companies. Net income attributable to holder of ordinary shares for the first quarter of 2010 was $20.7 million or US$0.11 per diluted ADS, down from fourth quarter net income of $44 million or $0.24 per diluted ADS.

The major non-cash related expenses were share based compensation charges of $3 million and $8.6 million of non-cash interest expenses that I mentioned earlier and depreciation and amortization expenses of $18.7 million.

Pay tax, which was primarily for newly installed cell and module capacity totaled $72.4 million in the first quarter.

Turning to the balance sheet, our cash and cash-equivalent amounted to $677.2 million at the end of the quarter down from $3.2 million as of December 31 2009. The decrease in cash and cash-equivalent was primarily due to an additional investment in GSF, we purchased of the Convertible Senior Note due 2012 and sequential increase in restricted cash, accounts receivable and inventories.

Accounts receivable totaled $467.7 million as of March 31, 2010 compared with $384.4 million as of December 31, 2009. Day sells outstanding were 72 days in the first quarter of 2010 compared to 60 days in the fourth quarter of 2009.

The main reason for the increase in AR and DSOs was that majority of our shipments took place toward the end of this quarter. This was related to timing of shipments rather than any exchanges in our sales terms.

Inventory also increased in line with our increase in production and shipment to $314.1 million in the first quarter. Despite the increase in AR and inventory, our working capital management move continued to improve in the first quarter of 2010.

Accounts payable totaled $384.3 million as of March 31, 2010 compared with $264.2 million as of December 31, 2009. The increase in accounts payable was primarily due to extended credit terms from our suppliers. As a result, our cash conversion cycle improved from 64 days in the fourth quarter to 68 days in the first quarter.

Now, turning to slide eleven; in the second quarter of 2010, we expect (audio gap) sequentially. Consolidated gross margin in the second quarter of 2010 is expected to be in the high teens, which is based on an assumed exchange rate of $1.23 to the euro.

(audio gap) increased our 2010 shipment target (audio gap) 25 gigawatts to more than 1.3 gigawatts which is 85% higher than our 2009 total shipments. We are on schedule with our planned expansion to 1.4 gigawatts of PV cell and module production capacity by the middle of 2010 of which 450 megawatt will be Pluto-enabled.

Capital expenditures for this expansion are expected to be approximately $200 million. That concludes our prepared remarks today. Operator, please go ahead with questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from the line of Burt Chao with Simmons Incorporated.

Burt Chao - Simmons Incorporated

Dr. Shi and the rest of the team, just may be wonder if you might talk a little bit of the Chinese market as you diversify away from Europe and other traditional markets in North America and China; what do you see the revenue development look like on an ASP level, just I guess historically there've been concerns about lower margins per sales in products and project in China. Do you still see that been the case going forward or are there have been developments to the contrary?

Zhengrong Shi

Well I think you are right, like, historically for Chinese market we all expect lower than in the average ASP. But again, ASP is always determined by the demand and the supplier relationship.

So what we are actually seeing what happened in China is normally because of this global supply is in great shortage, ASP actually is going up more than 15%. So I think of course so far we haven't seen any concrete subsidy policy announced by the government.

But even though we do see actually we see a lot of projects going on and what we see in the market in the sort of ten year and 12 year there is multiple 50-100 megawatt type of project in the bidding process is happening in the market at this moment. So I think that is for Chinese market as of moment.

Burt Chao - Simmons Incorporated

Okay, great, and just a second quick question on the Shanghai facility that has been refurbished from thin film to crystalline, is the cost structure there going to look pretty similar, will it be improved because it will mostly utilize Pluto. And secondly, what is the plan going forward for thin film at Suntech?

Zhengrong Shi

Okay. Yes, of course, like the manufacturing cost structure is pretty much similar to Wushi. And yes, all facilities in Shanghai will be totally enabled. And regarding thin film production line at this moment, as we all know, because the efficiency is only about 6% to 7% and also there's no very obvious competitiveness for thin film to compete with crystalline silica at this moment. So anyway, like we said earlier, we see (inaudible) make thin film products more applicable for building integrated industry.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your next question comes from the line of Vishal Shah with Barclays Capital.

Vishal Shah - Barclays Capital

On the Silicon cost side, you've received some discounts from your suppliers in the first quarter. How do you think costs are going to look like in the second quarter and also in the second half and then I'll follow up?

Amy Zhang

I missed the first half of your question, are you talking about the wafer cost?

Vishal Shah - Barclays Capital

Yes, Poly Silicon cost or wafer costs.

Amy Zhang

Right, so our material form is through wafer. So talking about wafer, in Q2 I think it's going to be a down side low single digit percent in Q2.

Vishal Shah - Barclays Capital

Okay and then how do you think the second half wafer costs are going to look like?

Amy Zhang

Relatively stable, of course the changing of the FX fluctuation.

Vishal Shah - Barclays Capital

Okay. And then, as given the euro has depreciated a lot more in the second quarter and you are already in June, can you give us a rough estimate of what the FX impact would be? You've hedged a lot more but the depreciation of the euro is greater than first quarter. Should we assume a similar FX impact in Q2 as in Q1?

Amy Zhang

Actually depends on the euro rate and being on the 13 June…

Vishal Shah - Barclays Capital

Assuming the euro remains unchanged?

Amy Zhang

Just to put it in a quantifiable way, the ending euro rate on 31 March, 2010, is $1.351 and taking the example of today's euro rate of $1.235 as the ending rate on 13 June this quarter; it's got around 12 euro cent fluctuation again. And our net euro exposure is €350 million.

So the gross FX fluctuation will be around 40million to 42 million. And because of that we have improved our hedge percentage up to 65% of the net euro exposure and with the effective rate of US$1.26 dollar versus euro.

So the gain from the hedge products will give us around 7 million to 9 million gain in the Q2 based on $1.23 ending rate of euro. So net of would be $30 million, $35 million.

Zhengrong Shi

Maybe I'll add some thing on top of what just Amy said. What Amy says is assumes our average ASP based on $1.35. So that would give you that much loss. So, at this moment we don't know.

I think it's definitely the U.S. change will be way below $1.35. So, 1.35 that figure sounds scary, but I don't think, you know will be that much. So just want to comment on that.

Vishal Shah - Barclays Capital

That's very helpful. Your net FX loss in Q2 will be $30 million to $35 million. Correct?

Zhengrong Shi

No, not yet, because as you said by 30 June, say it's about 1.3 as of today, okay. See assuming you got ASP, average ratio of ASP, say is 1.25 for example. You know, I don't know the exact number because it is not there yet. Say it's 1.25 or 1.28, I think as Amy said, we have about €350 million exposure as AI. So I think $0.01, drops the average say, 1.25 will 3.5 million foreign exchange loss.

Is desired number, but what Amy give is assuming average euro to U.S. change is based on the end of Q1 is 1.35. So that would give you about $30 million loss.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Rob Stone with Cowen & Company.

Rob Stone - Cowen & Company

Dr. Shi, I wanted to follow up on your comment about local currency pricing remaining not only stable in Q2 but also into the second half. Some other companies that have already reported have talked about the pretty flat or perhaps low single-digit declines in the second half. Do you expect that Suntech will continue to enjoy a premium in local currency versus some of your competitors? And do you think towards the end of the year there will still be some decline in anticipation of the shift changes that take place in January.

Zhengrong Shi

Yes, as we reported earlier in August, FIT cut in June, but even though the ROI still will be around 8%. So the demand is far ahead of supply. So we will be able to keep our ASP sort of flattish through the rest of the year. Of course, Suntech still enjoy the premium, and so we also say, because absolute ASP is falling, for euro we keep our premium unchanged, because the estimates at dollar value, or euro value of the premium would be reduced with the ASP.

Rob Stone - Cowen and Company

So premium relative to the prices come out. My follow-up question is for Amy. You mentioned core gross margin significantly above the consolidated gross margin. Can you give us some more color on the breakdown of revenue between core wafer to module activities, what else was in there and how much in it? What margin gets you from over 22% to 19.5%?

Amy Yi Zhang

Well, we normally don't give that breakdown, but just to give you some elaboration on the mix of revenues, actually out of the total $588 million revenue, the other revenue apart from the core business of wafers module are from the PV cells and also system integration and equipments. But added up together, the three other businesses, it's really trivial and contributed to even less than 10% of the total revenues.

So we normally don't give out those splits until it gets really significant and influential.

Rob Stone - Cowen and Company

I wasn't asking you to itemize, I just wanted to get, of the $588 million, how much was core and how much was non-core. And then I guess it must be a quite low gross margin for the other activities in order to (tell).

Zhengrong Shi

10%, as Amy said.

Rob Stone - Cowen and Company

Less than 10% revenue or gross margins?

Zhengrong Shi

Revenues.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Sanjay Shreshta with Lazard.

Sanjay Shrestha - Lazard

I have a couple of quick questions. Number one, there I think has been some chatter in the market about potential degradation related to the high efficiently Pluto cell, and I kind of just wanted to bring that up and was hoping if you guys could comment on that and talk about that a bit.

Steven Chan

Well, actually a good question, it sounds there's a bit of misunderstanding in the marketplace. And there is nothing inherently wrong with the Pluto technology. We are actually very pleased with the way it's performing, and quite excited about the impact that it is having and going to continue to have in the future. And as I mentioned in the earnings call, there's been some small glitches, but that's what you expect when implementing new technology into large scale production of course.

Sanjay Shrestha - Lazard

That's very helpful. And Dr. Shi, a question for you. Obviously, thank you for all the clarity on this euro exchange dynamics. And if euro continues to see the further slide throughout the year and let's say goes to the long term average of 1.18 making 2011 global clearing price somewhere around $1.30 a lot. In that hypothetical scenario, what do you think happens from a policy support standpoint in China?

And pricing delta no longer being that different, do you think you all of a sudden become in a very good position that margin delta between China and even some of the European market vis-à-vis Germany might not be that different. Can you comment on that a little bit as to how you are seeing and thinking about that strategically, or what kind of policy support do you think you can get from the central government?

Zhengrong Shi

Well, as I said, from Central Government point of view they certainly want to support the local industry as much as possibly by actually providing subsidy. And I think at this moment because the international market demand is very high and the price is much higher than what is in China. So therefore, Chinese government did not specifically give feed-in tariff. Of course, they give some indicative feed-in tariff.

And if we walk through the scenario you mentioned there, and it could come true, I think a lot of more products will be sold within China. I think that from government point of view, definitely there will be larger scale project going on. And I believe in the next six months, there will be several big projects in China to be announced. So I think government is still in the process to find out what is the most appropriate feed-in tariff to subsidize industry locally.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Nitin Kumar with Nomura Singapore.

Nitin Kumar - Nomura Singapore

Just a couple of quick questions on the associates if I may, I was kind of wondering, there has been chatter in terms of that some of the affiliates are not really performing very well. I was just wondering if you could give an update on the investments into these affiliates, and as to how do they fan?

Amy Zhang

So you're talking about the equity.

Nitin Kumar - Nomura Singapore

Yes, I'm looking at the equity, guys. I'm primarily looking at Shunda, Glory and Nitol.

Amy Zhang

As a large shareholder, we invested in those companies based on the condition that we will receive good quality wafers from these investee companies. And from most of the investee companies we do receive wafers on time as scheduled, and with the very competitive price from them as well and effectively offset with our prepayment, which has been paid in previous years. So that's the current situation with most of the China-based wafer companies that we have invested.

Nitin Kumar - Nomura Singapore

I'm actually more concerned in terms of your exposure to these companies. Because if I look at your 20-F, there's about $200 million payables amount due from Glory Silicon, and there is about $54.7 million in supply agreements to Shunda. I was just kind of wondering as to how long will it take to wind these receivables?

Amy Zhang

Actually, we have felt quite aggressive of that policy. Like some of the offsets were based on the fixed amount per piece of wafer; some of them are following the percentage of offset, while Shunda, it's almost at 50% offset with the prepayment, based on the actual settlement by taking wafers from them.

Nitin Kumar - Nomura Singapore

And in terms of Glory, because that's like $200 million due from them, what timeframe should we look at these flowing through the balance sheet?

Amy Zhang

I think most of the long-term settlements will gradually be shifted from long-term prepayment to the current one because of the execution of these contracts and the offset rate that we are accelerating to get from these suppliers.

Zhengrong Shi

Excuse me. Maybe you can discuss this issue in more detail with Amy offline?

Nitin Kumar - Nomura Singapore

Yes, I'll do that. Sure, I'll do that.

Operators

(Operator Instructions) Your next question comes from the line of Edwin Mok with Needham & Company.

Edwin Mok - Needham & Company

Based on your raised full-year guidance, is that suggesting that you guys expect a stronger shipment in the second half of this year versus the first half? And what gives you the confidence that you can increase the shipment in second half?

Zhengrong Shi

Yes, as we've said, we are on track to reach 1.4 gigawatt capacity before end of the month. So that's why, for the second half we will be able to produce more products.

Edwin Mok - Needham & Company

I see, it was more capacity related. And then just quickly on Pluto, I was wondering, you guys mentioned that you are producing only around 4 megawatt per month right now, but I assume you have started to sell those products. Are you able to capture any kind of price premium on those products?

Zhengrong Shi

You mean premium time?

Edwin Mok - Needham & Company

Yes. And what (kind of) price?

Zhengrong Shi

About 15%.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Colin Rusch with ThinkEquity.

Unidentified Analyst

This is (Brandon Moller) for Colin. Thank you for taking the question. The question I have is, as far as your orders go for the rest of 2010, would you be able to give maybe like a percentage of how booked Suntech is in terms of capacity and orders and everything?

Zhengrong Shi

Give you the volume?

Unidentified Analyst

Yes, in terms of how much of the 1.3 gigawatts of shipments that you see for the rest of 2010.

Zhengrong Shi

Definitely, on the current order, we're fully sold out. We don't have enough products to fulfill our customers' demand. So we can't fulfill all the orders basically.

Unidentified Analyst

And then just for a follow-up question, is there just a certain amount that you might be able to put around how extensive you expect your overall investment in GSF to be over the long term.

Zhengrong Shi

GSF, we have roundabout 240 megawatt fully permitted projects. And we all know that for the first 40 megawatt project has been a pain like the process has been much longer than all of us expected.

So as far as we understand, it's very hard to develop the rest of the project and especially they all want to get all of this project connected before the end of the year to meet the high feed-in tariff.

So I think in the coming weeks or months if everything goes well and the project financing and it's all happening as wished, I think it will be possible to be choosing again to supply modules to them.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Gary Hsueh with Oppenheimer & Company. Please proceed.

Gary Hsueh - Oppenheimer & Company

My question just centers on the ASPs. You talked about on ASPs on the module side declining for you in Q1 14%, a pretty big decline. I don't think I've seen any companies reporting Q1 of an ASP decline that much more like 5% to 10%, I think, is a norm.

Can you tell me what's happening there in terms of ASPs in Q1, why you might be underperforming and what sort of happens to that premium pricing structure? And does this signal any kind of shift in terms of your market strategy in placing your modules. I've got a follow up as well.

Zhengrong Shi

Because our competitors are listening as well, so I think most of our competitors they'd dropped the price too quickly last year. So I think to be honest, I don't think they don't need to be to go to that level that quickly.

But of course, once you've dropped the price, it is hard for you to bounce back. And we are in a very awkward position. We were poured down to the water by our competitors. Of course we still enjoy premium price, but our customers, they all say you're competitive, you're already at this level. So we have to reduce our price accordingly.

Gary Hsueh - Oppenheimer & Company

Okay, just a little bit of catch-up then I guess. And just a second question on ASPs. I understand that you're fully booked out here in Q3. Just wondering what percentage of your committed shipments in Q3 have actual prices attached to them.

Zhengrong Shi

I think to a large extent, price is more or less declining.

Gary Hsueh - Oppenheimer & Company

Okay. So your guidance has low-single digit declines in line with euros basically already determines on a large part of your shipments in Q3.

Zhengrong Shi

Yes.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Pranab Sarmah with Daiwa Capital Markets.

Pranab Sarmah - Daiwa Capital Markets

Dr. Shi, my first question is on your shipment guidance of 1.3 gigawatt. Does it include any shipment to GSF. For example, GSF (inaudible) debt for the finance then there is additional shipment on another 200 megawatt more, does the 200 megawatt --?

Zhengrong Shi

Yes, we would further factor some in. But as I said, we're fully sold out. Even, for example, we love shipping to GSF; we still have enough orders to pack up.

Pranab Sarmah - Daiwa Capital Markets

Second one is on your outlook of the market for 2011, global solar market. What type of percentage increase on shipment you are expecting and which are the markets do you think that will give you a bigger growth?

Zhengrong Shi

Well, so far if we look at all the governments, they're very cooperative of our nuclear energy and solar. From that point of view, we're very confident that the market will continue to grow. But on the other hand, we also think the macroeconomic situation in Europe does not look very good at this moment. So we have to be a little sensitive to that situation as well.

But again, the solar market will grow not just in Europe, but will increase for the rest of the world. So I think that that's a really good sign. For example, Japan is very robust. U.S. just grew so fast. And also China and even Middle East and Africa or Australia to everywhere, is growing very fast. And from that point of view, we see confidence and the market in 2011 looks very positive at this moment.

Pranab Sarmah - Daiwa Capital Markets

Positive means shipment growth will be comparable to 2010 or it will be much similar than 2010?

Zhengrong Shi

We haven't (computed) the exact number, but I guess definitely shipment will be more than 2010.

Pranab Sarmah - Daiwa Capital Markets

And my last question to Amy is on the thin film investment. How much investment do you have on the thin film line? And since you have almost abundant of project, what will happen to those investments?

Amy Zhang

You mean on the thin film side? It's around $40 million to $50 million.

Pranab Sarmah - Daiwa Capital Markets

And it seems you have decided not to go ahead with thin film at this point. This $40 million to $50 million, how you are going to depreciate this amount?

Amy Zhang

I think currently some of the facilities and infrastructures will be shared by Pluto-enabled equipment for silicon-based manufacturing. And as Dr. Shi said, the silicon production will be more building integrated applications oriented.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Sunil Gupta with Morgan Stanley.

Sunil Gupta - Morgan Stanley

I have two questions, first a financial question for Amy and then a follow-up on Pluto. Amy, on your various investments in affiliates, can you help us understand what's your total exposure to two of the investments, particularly GSF, because you said in your results that you have increased investment in GSF; and also at Shunda, both in terms of your equity investment as well as receivables outstanding as of now?

Ami Yi Zhang

Total investment up to now in GSF is €125 million; and for Shunda, taking the 2.8%, I think around US$100 million.

Sunil Gupta - Morgan Stanley

This is your equity investment or this includes your receivables from Shunda? You also have lent some money to Shunda?

Amy Zhang

Prepayment from Shunda, well, it's just pure equity. But the pre-agreement pay to Shunda is now being offset at 50% with the actual settlement and their actual delivery of wafers to us, which is zero at normal track.

Sunil Gupta - Morgan Stanley

Besides prepayments, have you also lent any money to Shunda?

Amy Zhang

No, we didn't lend any money.

Sunil Gupta - Morgan Stanley

What was the reason for increase in the investment in GSF, and I believe that was made in Q1, right?

Zhengrong Shi

I think, Sunil, as I just said, GSF altogether has 240 megawatt full permitted. And I think part of this investment is to reach precedent condition for drawing on project financing. Secondly, they have to use this in order to get the plant connected to the grid on time. And thirdly, of course, there is some spending on the project development related issues.

Sunil Gupta - Morgan Stanley

Are there any plans to invest any more in GSF this year?

Zhengrong Shi

Well, we expect the probably very minimal as far as all can see at this moment.

Sunil Gupta - Morgan Stanley

And then I have a follow-up on Pluto. So right now, Dr. Shi, you're shipping about 4 megawatts per month, which sounds like you have two lines working on Pluto. What's your current expectation for total Pluto shipment for 2010 and if you have may be on 2011 for Pluto shipments?

Zhengrong Shi

As Stuart just mentioned, we (audio gap) is not very high rolling, because we made some glitch of this in mass production and module production in the process control. So we on top of it have several solutions to tackle that. So once that happens, we'll be able to ramp up very quickly in PVU updates.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Dan Ries with Collins Stewart.

Dan Ries - Collins Stewart

I'm still looking at the gross margin with the 22.1% on the core. Did you make any modules during the quarter using purchased cells that would not be included in the core?

Zhengrong Shi

No.

Dan Ries - Collins Stewart

Okay, because if I take 90% of your sales and apply 22.1% gross margin, I get gross profit that's greater than your total gross profit. So I guess my question becomes do you have a negative gross margin on all those other sales collectively?

Zhengrong Shi

You are right.

Dan Ries - Collins Stewart

Okay. And then a quick follow-up. GSF, why do you think that there was such difficulty arranging the financing? Other projects with far less significant backers were getting financing.

Zhengrong Shi

We are as unfortunate as you are regarding this. I guess early last year because of the financial (inaudible) for project financing. And I think what we did see is actually the (clogged deal). So I think it may be actually, because originally we wanted to feed out the process even in situation of difficulty, but could be actually we complicated the situation by being (inaudible) one bank or two actually, processing is much easier. But because it is a (inaudible) the process is actually more complicated than we expected.

And then to be honest, the project business, we had the first standard grid, and the learning curve and experience we probably have to pay. So I think we have already learned a great deal. So I believe for the next one or two projects, the process would be much easier. And having said that, we do believe investment in GSF is a brilliant idea, is a long-term strategic investment.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Gordon Johnson with Hapoalim.

Gordon Johnson - Hapoalim

Just have three questions. First, when I look at your cash and your short-term investments, I noticed in aggregate they declined roughly $360 million. And when I look at your debt obligations, your minimum property purchase of equipment obligations in your take-or-pay obligations this year, it's about $1.8 billion.

So can you help me understand what the cash and equivalents balance you have now? Could there potentially be any liquidity issues with respect to these incremental obligations you guys have this year? And then I have a couple of follow-ups.

Amy Zhang

I think the simple answer to your question is no, no kind of potential risk. By looking at the detailed numbers, I think the current movement on the cash and cash equivalent, the large amount that have been paid back to mid-February was due to the early retirement of the long-term liability. We've repurchased all the outstanding CD in Q1, which actually has cost us more than $200 million including interest.

Gordon Johnson - Hapoalim

I guess, Amy, that would still leave your incremental obligations this year at $1.6 billion. And your cash and equivalents balance declined pretty significantly. So I'm just trying to figure out if there is any potential liquidity.

Amy Zhang

Where did you get that $1.8 billion purchase obligation?

Gordon Johnson - Hapoalim

I'm looking at your minimum property purchase and equivalent purchase obligations for 2010 and your take-or-pay obligations for 2010.

Amy Zhang

Based on the situation, that has not been updated on December 31, 2009. As you know, all these long-term payment trends have now been updated on quarterly basis, annual basis. And starting from January, we all have come into new agreements in these purchase obligations to be fulfilled in the year. And if you look at '08, the purchased obligations was even much huge than what was reported in '09 20F. And you didn't have so called liquidated damage in '09. So that has been updated with the progress.

Gordon Johnson - Hapoalim

The real concern I have is the take-or-pay obligations is the bulk of this balance at about $1.4 billion. That was as of your last reported number. So I'm just trying to figure out where that number is right now. That's really the major concern I have.

Amy Zhang

As I said and communicated several times, the current long-term payment or long-term contracts has got the different spirit. When the long-term partners can supply some type of competitive price and good quality raw materials, we purchase from them instead of from the stock market. And also with accelerated offset program of the prepayment, actually it's being managed quite well by Suntech with most of our offstream suppliers.

Gordon Johnson - Hapoalim

Okay. Just one follow-up. With respect to Pluto, you guys said you had some issues there. On your last call, you said that in the first half you would produce 30 megawatts and in the second half you would produce 150 megawatts. So total 180 megawatts. Due to the glitches you guys have had, can you update us on those two numbers, your first half expected production and your second half expected production?

Zhengrong Shi

If you look at the 4 megawatts per month we have at this moment, in the first half we're probably around 30 megawatts. So for the second, as Stuart just updated, we are on track to retrofit 450 megawatts approved to CLI. And we are solidifying our module profit to ramp up to that volume. So we'll give you a detailed update in the next call or in between.

Gordon Johnson - Hapoalim

So I should expect you guys to hit that 150-megawatt shipment number for the second half for Pluto-enabled module?

Zhengrong Shi

No, at this moment, I will rather prefer you to be conservative just based on 4 megawatt, 5 megawatt run rate per month.

Gordon Johnson - Hapoalim

You may fall roughly 100 megawatt short of your initial target? Okay.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of (Dan Dubsky) with Wells Fargo.

Sam Dubinsky - Wells Fargo

Sam Dubinsky actually, but that's okay. Just a couple of quick questions. Given that ASPs should continue to fall through Q3 due to FX, and I think you guided wafer costs to be pretty stable, how should we think about gross margins in the back half of the year? Then I have a follow-up question?

Amy Zhang

I think for the core business, it's still going to be maintained as the matter of high-teens percentage for the second half of this year.

Sam Dubinsky - Wells Fargo

And if you were to include the systems and other business, how should we think about it?

Amy Zhang

As Dr. Shi said, we are pretty much sold out with the international orders, and it depends how much we can fulfill, with the domestic orders on equipment (inaudible) and also other business like equipment and solar panel cells (inaudible). So far with the figure that we can guide at the moment, it should be based on this core business that we have higher visibility at the moment.

Sam Dubinsky - Wells Fargo

Okay. And just to be clear based on prior commentary, will the FX charge in Q2 be bigger than in Q1 if you assume the euro stays where it is today, the net FX charge?

Amy Zhang

Yes

Sam Dubinsky - Wells Fargo

And then how should we think about equity income for the remainder of the year? This quarter I think was 1 million in change. How should we think about that for the rest of the year on a quarterly basis?

Amy Zhang

We definitely had put up a lot of monetary policies regarding U.S. GAAP guidance to those affiliates. And I think with the kick-off of the few projects that are being joined by our by affiliates, the gain from the equity investment could be similar or even higher.

Sam Dubinsky - Wells Fargo

And then my last question is I know you said you are discontinuing thin film and some of your investments are struggling. Should we model in any charges for Q2 above and beyond FX or for Q3?

Amy Zhang

We actually have not really come to that point yet. And we're going to update you during our Q2 earnings communication.

Sam Dubinsky - Wells Fargo

And my last question is, why would you give GSF more money today if they haven't yet installed the project? A great investment, but in theory wouldn't you want to see them be successful on a project first before you put more money into them?

Zhengrong Shi

We have to be a little bit more patient, and things take time to happen.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Pavel Molchanov with Raymond James.

Pavel Molchanov - Raymond James

Most of my questions have been answered. Just one, regarding 2011, you've indicated that you should be increasing shipments. Have you actually booked any sales yet into 2011?

Zhengrong Shi

Yes.

Pavel Molchanov - Raymond James

Can you tell us what the quantities of those are?

Zhengrong Shi

I can't tell you the quantity, but I will give you updated information in the following earning call, so especially opt in (inaudible).

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Paul Leming with Soleil Securities.

Paul Leming - Soleil Securities

Two quick questions; first, you've said you basically sold out through the end of the year. Could you just give us some detail on how firm the orders you have in the second half are? What are the penalties that customers would suffer if any of those orders were to be cancelled?

Steven Chan

First of all, we have very successfully diversified our customer bases. So especially, as you can see for the first quarter, less than 70% was sold to Europe. I think most of the investors are concerned about European situation. So I think we have addressed that situation fairly proactively. And secondly, all order has been based on firmed contracts, and also a lot of it's based on the PO.

Paul Leming - Soleil Securities

I'm sorry I missed that last part?

Steven Chan

POs, the purchase orders.

Paul Leming - Soleil Securities

And you can collect on those purchase orders if they are cancelled. Are there letters of credit associated with the purchase orders? I guess that's the question.

Steven Chan

We can't rule out the possibility of cancellation. And what we just feel, today, the demand situation is different from prior to financial crisis, say prior to October 2008. So we find the market fundamental is much better than about one and a half years ago. We also feel optimism, more belief on bankable products and bankable brands. So all this difference give us confidence all these orders will be carried through.

Paul Leming - Soleil Securities

Fair enough. If I could just ask as a follow up, you said that you saw (IRs) and rooftop installations in Germany declining to historic levels of roughly 8% after the feed-in tariff cuts. Could you give us an idea of what you think installations in Germany will be for the year, and then how that installation number will break down first half, second half.

And what I'm really after is, do you think that the rooftop market in Germany, the data says there's been about 60% of the market, do you expect the rooftop market in the second half of the year in Germany to be as strong as the rooftop market in the first half of the year?

Steven Chan

I think in Germany, historically rooftop market has been always very strong. And even with FIT cuts from July, I think rooftop market probably will remain the only market which is vital in terms of return of investment in Germany. So I believe for Germany the standard of rooftop market will definitely increase compared to the first half.

And in terms of total shipment to Germany for the first half and second half, my feeling is, historically second half has been always higher than the first half. For this year I believe the second half will be sort of flattish for the first half. But as I said, other markets has increased much faster than German market.

Paul Leming - Soleil Securities

Do you have a forecast for total installations in Germany for the full year 2010?

Zhengrong Shi

Well I did report about six or seven gigawatts.

Paul Leming - Soleil Securities

And that seems reasonable as you look at the market today?

Zhengrong Shi

Yes.

Operator

And this concludes the question and answer portion of today's conference call. I will now turn the call back over to Dr. Shi.

Zhengrong Shi

Yes, sorry we couldn't get to all your calls, but please feel free to follow-up with our representatives. Thank you. Have a nice day.

Operator

Thank you for your participation in today's conference call. This concludes the presentation. You may now disconnect. Good day.

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Source: Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. Q1 2010 Earnings Call Transcript
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