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Hanwha Solarone Co., Ltd. (NASDAQ:HSOL)

Q3 2011 Earnings Call

November 22, 2011 8:00 am ET

Executives

Paul Combs – Vice President Investor Relations

Ki-Joon Hong – Chairman of the Board & Chief Executive Officer

Jung Pyo Seo – Chief Financial Officer

Sungsoo Lee – Chief Strategy Officer & Board Secretary

Tai Seng Png – Chief Operating Officer

Koo Yung Lee – Chief Commercial Officer

Analysts

Analyst for Jesse Pichel – Jefferies & Co.

Paul Clegg – Mizuho Securities USA

Adam Wiseman – Luminous Capital

Kelly Dougherty – Macquarie Research Equities

Operator

Welcome to the Hanwha Solarone third quarter 2011 earnings conference call. At this time all participants are in a listen only mode. There will be a presentation followed by a question and answer session. (Operator Instructions) I must advise you that this conference is being recorded today, November 22, 2011. I would now like to hand the conference over to our speaker, Mr. Paul Combs, Vice President of Investor Relations for Hanwha Solarone.

Paul Combs

Joining me today with formal comments are my colleagues, our Chairman and CEO Ki-Joon Hong, our CFO Jay Seo and Sungsoo Lee, our Chief Strategy Officer. We know there are a number of other reports this morning, that you have a lot on your plate so we will try and keep our comments tightly focused. Chairman Hong will open with some brief comments about our thoughts on the industry and the business. Jay will follow with some abbreviated highlights of the third quarter.

We trust you have seen the results released earlier so we will therefore try not to repeat each line item. Sungsoo will conclude with the review of several key initiatives we believe are essential to our future success and conclude with some comments about our expectations for the remainder of 2011. We’ll then obviously be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Before we begin I’d like to remind you that you can download a PowerPoint file that will accompany this presentation from our website. I would also like to remind you of our Safe Harbor policy which is also included in the earnings release and posted in its entirety on Slide Two of the slide package. I need to state that our comments today will contain forward-looking statements that are subject to risks and uncertainties. Please review our filings with the SEC for a complete rundown of these risks.

Now it is my pleasure to turn the call over to our Chairman Ki-Joon Hong.

Ki-Joon Hong

When Hanwha made the decision to enter the solar business and make it one of our major areas of future growth we understood the trends of it and the need for [inaudible] and long term strategic growth to building this business. [Inaudible] we thought the year 2011 and 2012 would be trying years for the industrial and the pace of change has been somewhat of a surprise. The results of these [inaudible] change has resulted in negative impact on Hanwha Solarone.

The negative cost of these pressures effected revenue growth and the profitability as you saw from our third quarter results. We are prepared to [inaudible] trends through the first quarter of 2012. In response to these we have made several relative decisions to managing costs. First, we have reduced manufacturing operations to largely [inaudible]. Second, we are allowing for workforce reduction through natural attrition and we have deferred any new cost spending decisions until the market recovers.

All of our executives are working hard to monitor cost and spend only where necessary. We however, are still focused on building this company for long term success. This still involves investment in branding, technical innovation, development systems and [inaudible]. We believe good [inaudible] ensure in bad markets and this is a window of opportunity for us to position ourselves for better times ahead.

There may be a silver lining to this top breaking environment we live in today. I believe the environment creates [inaudible] and competitive infrastructure at an accelerated pace and work particularly [inaudible] the pricing pressure and [inaudible] today. Low price will [inaudible] demand over time as the economics for photovoltaic [inaudible] in comparison to alternative forms of electricity generation.

The other benefits is a substantial reduction in input costs from silicon to components used to make [inaudible]. This will clearly enable us to run in some savings going forward and make our cost structure much lower than were predicted. While this [inaudible] unfolds we believe there are four critical elements to ensure our long term success. They are competitive cost structure, product innovation leading to differentiation, our strong balance sheet and continuing to capture and continuing to leverage these synergies within Hanwha. Both Jay and Sungsoo will touch on some of these points in their comments.

Before turning the call over to Jay, I’d like to close by assuring our shareholders that we to are not happy with the company’s near term financial performance and [inaudible]. You should know and trust that we are working to the best of our ability to build a profitable and sustainable company. We have invested heavily in a number of areas including branding and technology and will put systems in place in order to grow the business long term and work closely with our [inaudible] shareholder to explore synergies and build revenue wherever we can.

We thank you for your continued interest in Hanwha Solarone and your support as we navigate our way through this industry downturn and work hard to build a company with a bright future. Now, Jay See our CFO will walk you through some financial highlights.

Jung Pyo Seo

As Paul mentioned previously I want to take us through our results for the quarter. My comments follow along with Slide Four through Eight. The primary factor affecting our third quarter results was obviously the deteriorating solar market environment around the world. Especially quarter price declines and less than anticipated recovery in German demand. This was the primary factor behind the sequential decrease in our shipments for the quarter and significant drop in pricing.

There’s no doubt that this was a rough quarter but we had a few bright spots. On the cost side, we continued to make improvements in our in-house cost structure which should help leave us better positioned once the market does start to stabilize. At the same time, we also bolstered our balance sheet in order to help us operate effectively during this downturn. PV module shipments including module processing services were 200.9 megawatts down 2.5% from 205.9 megawatts last quarter.

While our ASP declined $1.23 from $1.56 in the second quarter, lower volumes and lower prices combined to reduce revenues 20.1% from the previous quarter to $225.4 million. We posted a gross loss of $24.3 million compared with a gross profit of $25.5 million last quarter. The gross loss in the third quarter included the effect of a non-cash inventory write down of $30.6 million related to lower cost of market or LCM assessment and a regular provision for obsolescence. In other words, we had module inventory that was manufactured with older higher cost of silicon build up while shipments were declining.

Gross margin was -10.8% compared with 9.1% in the previous quarter primarily due to the combination of a steep decline in ASP and significant negative effect of the inventory write down. We lost $51.4 million US dollars on an operating basis primarily because of the same reasons I just stated in addition to increased spending on marketing and sales in a highly competitive environment.

On a GAAP basis we recorded a net loss of $27.9 million or $0.33 per basic ADS. On a non-GAAP basis we recorded a net loss of $46.4 million or $0.55 per basic ADS. This figure was impacted primarily by a gain due to a change in fair value of our convertible bond which is largely influenced by the movement in our stock price during the quarter. This is an item over which we have no control.

Before I turn to the balance sheet, let me give a few more data points that are normally of interest. First, shipments by geography location, as seen on Slide Six, Germany emerges once again as the biggest market for us accounting for 45% of total shipments. The increase from 21% last quarter though unfortunately fell below our expectations due to a smaller than expected growth in demand prior to the Feed-In-Tariff reductions which will be effective in January of next year.

We also saw reasonable shipments to European markets such as Belgium and the Netherlands and emerging markets such as India, Korea and China which is obviously an important market that we are significantly increasing our focus on. The increase in shipments to China from 4.4% to 7% this quarter was largely a result of higher demand triggered by new government incentives. India and Korea accounted for 5% and 2% of total revenue respectively.

Our processing cost which is illustrated on Slide Seven fell during the third quarter. Our blended cost of growth cost of growth sold fell to $1.35 representing a 5.6% decrease from $1.43 in the previous quarter. Our cost using internal wafers and cells fell meaningfully from $1.32 to $1.13. The primary factors here were the decrease in the price of polysilicon and continued progress on a number of cost reduction initiatives.

Our average polysilicon cost for the third quarter fell to $56.5 per kilogram falling from an average of $74 kilogram last quarter. We expect the price of polysilicon to decline further in the first quarter in the $30 to $35 range.

Shifting to the balance sheet as shown on Slide Eight, as of September 30, 2011 our cash and cash equivalent balance increased by $57.8 million to $287.7 million. Networking capital totaled $278.8 million down about $7 million. The increase of cash balance was largely driven by a net $256.7 million increase in short and long term bank borrowing as we bolstered our capital position to ride out this downturn and was offset by some capital expenditures and other operating activities.

We increased our outstanding long term debt which includes the non-current portion of long term bank borrowing and our convertible bond to $301 million during the quarter mainly by signing a five year $100 million loan with Standard Chartered Bank and Korea Development Bank. This loan is important for two reasons. First, this demonstrates that two major global financial institutions have faith in our long term business model and second, it will help us effectively manage our operations in this difficult climate.

Clearly credit conditions in China are tightening overall but we continue to have access to funding. We have unused credit lines totaling $536 million composed of $74 million in long term facilities and $462 million in short term credit lines. We believe we have the financial capacity to manage through the industry downturn now underway. In fact, our balance sheet relative to many competitors remains a competitive advantage as does the perceived [backing of Hanwha].

Our current receivables declined slightly to $196.4 which was roughly in line with our slight reduction in shipments. Days sales outstanding increased from 76 days in the second quarter to 80 days this quarter reflecting customer demand for extended terms during this current operating environment. Inventories increased about $77 million during the quarter so we had to take a $30.6 million write down for the LCM assessment in obsolescence provision. Days inventory outstanding increased from 51 days in the prior quarter to 59 days in the third quarter.

Capital expenditures in the third quarter were $148 million which was used to complete the majority of our existing capital expenditure programs. As Chairman Hong had previously indicated, we had slowed any new capacity plans until the operating environment stabilizes. Sungsoo will now focus on some key initiatives underway which we believe are important to ensuring the company’s long term success.

Sungsoo Lee

As Chairman Hong noted earlier, it is a delicate balance between managing our business and cost prudently during the current operating environment while at the same time positioning the company for longer term competitive advantage and success. Today I will touch briefly on two areas of progress and continued focus for us.

Firstly, it’s well understood that with module price falling to $1 or below, it is imperative that you continue to drive in house processing costs lower. As Jay noted, we really made good progress in that regard during the third quarter taking our in house costs down to $1.13 from $1.32 for the previous quarter. As you know, we’re largely exposed to spot polysilicon pricing so that certainly helped.

Our non-poly processing cost for a standard multi module reached $0.74 a watt by third quarter’s end. Further progress will be challenging during the fourth quarter now underway as our reduced utilization has a negative impact on our cost structure. We have a very aggressive cost reduction program underway with a target in the low $0.60 by the year end of 2012.

There’s a large number of factors involved in accomplishing this goal as show on Slide Nine, many of which are too technical in nature to discuss in detail now. But, the general categories of improvements include reduced material consumption, substitution and pricing, lower breakage rates, higher cell and module output, more efficient uses of slurries and wire and silicon blending.

Secondly, on the product front we’ve been proactive in transitioning our product from a [plain vanilla] PV crystalline modules with little differentiation to a higher end module with enhanced value to the customer. We believe going forward, it will be necessary to take a more systems view of our product incorporating additional components such as inverters, batteries, and systems management and capturing some of the profit potential further down the value chain.

As announced previously, we have secured several licensing agreements shown on Slide 10 to enhance product features. The first is a licensing agreement with Zep Solar. Zep has patented module mounting and grounding technology which provides easier and safer installation while reducing balance of systems costs. We also announced earlier an agreement with EnPhase Energy which introduces a product combining Hanwha Solarone’s high performance modules with EnPhase's third generation micro inverters. The product allows our module to generate green compliant AC power directly at the module level. The product is equipped with integrated intelligence.

So cost improvement and product diversification are two examples of the direction we’re taking and the progress we have made. Of course, a big part of offering competitive products is higher cell efficiencies and therefore higher output modules meeting customers’ increasing needs to generate the most power with the smallest possible footprint. We’re moving forward to meeting our goals of cell efficiencies approaching 19% per mono and mid 17% for multi by the year end of 2012.

As Paul noted earlier, we want to be respectful of your time so I will close with one final comment about our annual shipment guidance. We have previously thought we could achieve 1 gigawatt in 2011 for full year shipments. Obviously with our nine months to date of 655 megawatt and the continued soft market in the fourth quarter some downward revision is warranted. We therefore are now projecting 2011 full year shipments in a range of 815 to 835 megawatts.

We’re now happy to answer any questions you may have. Joining us for the Q&A session are two additional senior officers of Hanwha Solarone Tai Seng Png, COO and Justin Lee our CCO. Operator, at this time please open the call for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from Analyst for Jesse Pichel – Jefferies & Co.

Analyst for Jesse Pichel – Jefferies & Co.

At the last quarter your annual shipment guidance of 1 gigawatt implied a pretty strong pickup in the second half and we’ve known about the weakness in the market for at least several months now, we’re just wondering why shipment guidance wasn’t revised earlier?

Sungsoo Lee

As noted on our announcements, we saw not relatively fair movement for the third quarter and fourth quarter right now so in line with that we are reducing our yearly guidance.

Analyst for Jesse Pichel – Jefferies & Co.

Then on the operating expense side, just looking forward to the next year from a big picture level it’s going to be a very tough market with significantly lower shipments than everyone was previously expecting. Do you have any plans to significantly reduce the op ex structure given the low utilization and low shipments? Are there any more drastic measures you can take?

Jung Pyo Seo

Surely we have plans to reduce op ex significantly next year particularly from the first quarter. So excluding some main expenses like branding, or [line] expenses, our other expenses will be optimized and reduced especially around unnecessary or not urgent op ex.

Analyst for Jesse Pichel – Jefferies & Co.

The last question, could you just talk a little bit about the customers you do have in your accounts receivable? Are these mostly installers, or distributors, larger customers, or smaller customers?

Jung Pyo Seo

Your question is related to [country exposure], right? Our customers are still showing very good faith on the payment and our customers are generally big customers. I cannot give details how to classify our customers right now but regarding AR there are no issues right now.

Operator

Your next question comes from Paul Clegg – Mizuho Securities USA.

Paul Clegg – Mizuho Securities USA

I apologize if you’ve covered any of this I dialed in late, but given where spot market wafer pricing is now, how do you envision relying on external versus internal wafers in 2012? And, should we expect any write downs of wafer capacity?

Sungsoo Lee

In terms of our regional guidance for capacity at year end, actually it was for ingot and wafer was 1 gigawatt, cell was 1.3 and module was 1.5. But in reality, at the end of this year we’re going to be 800 megawatts for ingot and wafer. Our cell and module will be just the same. We want to position ourselves where we can leverage the fluctuation of outside wafers so we expect this extremely low wafer price will be hazardous until at least the first quarter of next year. So we are going to be very prudent in terms of making our capacity expansion especially ingot and wafer. So your question about how are we going to leverage our internal versus outside wafer, we’re going to see the market situation and we will be as flexible as possible to leverage the fluctuation of wafer pricing.

Paul Clegg – Mizuho Securities USA

And no need to write off wafer capacity even where outside wafer pricing has gone?

Sungsoo Lee

No.

Paul Clegg – Mizuho Securities USA

Then if I could just one follow up regarding Hanwha Chemical, clearly the overall performance of Solarone’s stock has got to be a disappointment to them and yet they seem to still have potential opportunities that could help Hanwha Solarone. I didn’t hear you talk about them in the part of the presentation I heard, is there anything new there in terms of accessing projects in Korea or additional help on either financing or access to raw materials that we could see play out in 2012?

Sungsoo Lee

Hanwha Chemicals is the parent company that owns 49.9% of our company, of Hanwha Solarone and Hanwha Chemicals still has a great commitment to this market. So not only does Hanwha Chemical but Hanwha Group as a whole as a strong commitment to the solar PV industry. So Hanwha Chemical still has a plan to build polysilicon capacity by the end of year 2013 and other downstream projects and establishment of the solar designated funds is on the way. So those type of examples are the clear indication that Hanwha Group as a whole not only Hanwha Chemical has a strong commitment to the solar industry.

Operator

Your next question comes from Adam Wiseman – Luminous Capital.

Adam Wiseman – Luminous Capital

Just wanted to touch a bit on your outstanding debt. You mentioned the strong balance sheet, any chance you use that to rebuy the convert? It seems to be trending at about $0.50 on the $1 now, it could create some real value for the company.

Ki-Joon Hong

We know it is a very good time of think of our convertible bond buy back and so as you thought we have an emphasis on cash balances right now. The management team is continuously reviewing what is the best time to buy back the CB so internally there is a procedure to make a decision and if we think it is good timing we’ll do that but it is not decided yet.

Sungsoo Lee

To sum up the answer we see there is opportunity outside but until now there has been no official discussion or decision internally to make a repurchase of these convertible bonds outside?

Adam Wiseman – Luminous Capital

Just thinking about the yield on the convert being 17% versus other capital allocation decisions do you think that you’re earning similar returns on cap ex as you would be on repurchasing debt?

Ki-Joon Hong

It is correct. [Inaudible] we are definitely thinking about the convertible buy back but what we are saying is the decision is not made yet officially.

Jung Pyo Seo

So one thing to add to that answer to the question is that we are not a financial investor who really cares about the short term profitability. We want the investors outside to consider us as a strategic investor who has a strong commitment to this industry and we really care about the long term viability and sustainability of our business. So while I admit that there will be not many good chances to achieve the level of profitability that you just mentioned however, in terms of allocating our funds we are very prudent and careful to have our long term business sustainability. So that’s the one thing I can add to your answer.

Operator

Your next question comes from Analyst for Jesse Pichel – Jefferies & Co.

Analyst for Jesse Pichel – Jefferies & Co.

Just going further regarding the support from the parent Hanwha, if it comes to a point where you do require working capital or additional capital, would they step in to provide that kind of support of financing, or any type of loan? Also, with the stock price having fallen this much is there any possibility that they would consider purchasing the other half of the company?

Jung Pyo Seo

As you may know, we are not in a position to represent Hanwha Chemical or Hanwha Group’s perspective on this but as far as we understand, they are quite open to any type of ideas that can be helpful to its son or daughter company. So what I mean by that is our understanding is that they are quite open to any type of idea only we are not in a good position to represent their perspectives.

Operator

Your next question comes from Paul Clegg – Mizuho Securities USA.

Paul Clegg – Mizuho Securities USA

In terms of where you’re purchasing poly currently and where you think that could trend in your cost structure in 2012 and then where can you get to on processing costs as you look at the changes in raw material prices going into 2012?

Tai Seng Png

Talking about the non-silicon processing costs, as mentioned by Sungsoo earlier we are aggressively going to lower [inaudible] by end of next year. So to breakdown the current cost structure for example from September we are at in house costs of about $1.10 and $0.33 is silicon and $0.77 is non-silicon. Out of the $0.77, $0.55 is non-silicon costs, it’s a mix because we only have about 15% of mono and 85% of multi. We are going very aggressively to go for $0.60 by the end of 2012 and basically we need to look into the material consumption, reduce material consumption by substitutes of some of these materials and also the pricing of the materials. So roughly we will be able to cut about $0.02 to $0.03 every quarter next year. In poly price we estimate will be stable around $25 to $30 from the $56. So this is a [inaudible] figure so we believe it will stabilize around $25 to $30.

Paul Clegg – Mizuho Securities USA

When do you expect it to be in your cost structure stable at around $25 to $30? When do you expect that to start?

Tai Seng Png

I believe it will start from Q1 next year [inaudible] end of December.

Paul Combs

Paul, you may have joined late in the formal comments we mentioned $30 to $35 is the number that will hit our income statement. We’re actually buying poly near term at the $25 to $30 range.

Paul Clegg – Mizuho Securities USA

I did, I apologize for that. If I could then on op ex as well, everyone is talking about trying to squeeze op ex as much as they can but obviously this is a ultra-competitive environment and cutting too much on R&D and marketing has negative implications as well so I guess if you could maybe get more granular about where specifically you see opportunities to economize on operating expenses going forward and talk about kind of a base line number you would expect in 2012?

Ki-Joon Hong

I already touched a little bit on expense reduction for next year. First is as Tai Seng mentioned, we will optimize the headcount and the next thing is I already mentioned is except for very important expenses for the future growth we will look for unnecessary or not urgent expenses. Recently we found some not urgent expenses and so then around those kind of expenses we will try our best to reduce significantly from this quarter. I cannot provide exact percentages of our target.

Paul Clegg – Mizuho Securities USA

What would be a responsible baseline then for next year?

Ki-Joon Hong

Base line, if I say how much we will reduce as a target at least 20% of the op ex compared to this year.

Paul Clegg – Mizuho Securities USA

Compared to this year’s full year op ex with or without the onetime charges this year?

Paul Combs

You’re referring to the management severance Paul?

Paul Clegg – Mizuho Securities USA

Exactly. Maybe if we could talk about a quarterly run rate that’s the baseline off of which you would reduce 20% that would be helpful.

Jung Pyo Seo

Last quarter there was a onetime fee for severance which was $5 million US dollar so our target is excluding that kind of onetime items in expenses so again, I mentioned 20% that is excluding onetime expenses.

Paul Clegg – Mizuho Securities USA

So if we take that and strip out $5 million then we should have the right starting point for 20% reduction next year?

Jung Pyo Seo

Yes.

Operator

Your next question comes from Analyst for Jesse Pichel – Jefferies & Co.

Analyst for Jesse Pichel – Jefferies & Co.

One last one, you mentioned that capacity expansions are being on hold in the current environment. Does that start in 4Q and can we assume that cap ex expenditures would be on hold indefinitely into ’12?

Sungsoo Lee

The answer for your question at this point of time is yes. But, however, we’re going to have a monthly basis review meeting to review the market trend and if demand picks up or something we’re going to decide our speed of our capacity expansion in a very prudent way starting from now.

Paul Combs

I think you should assume cap ex won’t be zero next year. We will attempt to increase our efficiencies through some retro fitting of existing lines. But clearly the scope of cap ex will be substantially reduced.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your next question comes from Kelly Dougherty – Macquarie Research Equities.

Kelly Dougherty – Macquarie Research Equities

Just wondering if you can give us some commentary on where you think ASPs go in the fourth quarter? And maybe even more importantly, how your ASPs are trending relative to some of your other Tier-1 peers?

Jung Pyo Seo

ASP for Q4 will be somewhere between high $0.90 to low $1.00 level.

Kelly Dougherty – Macquarie Research Equities

High $0.90 to low $1 is what you said?

Jung Pyo Seo

Yes for Q4 this year.

Kelly Dougherty – Macquarie Research Equities

How do you think that’s trending relative to some of your other Chinese peers? We’ve heard some pretty big divergence in some of the companies that have reported so far kind of from the low 90s to $1.10 or higher than that. Are you kind of at the lower end of the Tier-1 range, is that fair to say going forward?

Jung Pyo Seo

Currently the pricing is squeezed by the buyers in the market so for some of the big utility scale of the customers it tends to go $0.95 but for the small and medium scaled project developer their prices are slightly higher than $1 per watt at this level.

Kelly Dougherty – Macquarie Research Equities

Just one more, is there some kind of metric maybe you can help us think about the impact of underutilization? So if you run at 80% the impact is X cents per what or if you run higher or lower, is there any kind of back of the envelope calculation we can think about cent per watt impact from a change in utilization?

Paul Combs

Kelly, we really don’t have that figure to offer you. Let’s chat offline on that.

Operator

Your next question comes from Adam Wiseman – Luminous Capital.

Adam Wiseman – Luminous Capital

Just a quick follow up on the convert. I see the balance has been coming down and this quarter it came down another $16 million. Should we read into that that you guys were actually buying it back?

Jung Pyo Seo

We already talked about CB buyback. As we already indicated, we are not focusing on short term financial gains so we are pursuing the sustainable growth. Then in this instance, as far as price it seems it is very good timing to think of a CB buy back so we will internally discuss this more and later so I will get back to you.

Adam Wiseman – Luminous Capital

I’m just saying from Q2 to Q3 the convertible balance on the balance sheet declined, it went down about $16 million. Is that because you bought back the convert or is there something else?

Paul Combs

No Adam, that’s the accounting treatment that values each quarter the debt and the equity component of the convertible. We don’t have any control over that. There was no convert repurchase involved.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) At this time there are no audio questions. I would like to turn it over to Paul for closing remarks.

Paul Combs

Thanks everyone. I know you have a number of calls to deal with so we appreciate you tuning in. As always, if you have follow up questions please give us a ring. Thanks and have a great day.

Operator

Thank you for your participation. This concludes today’s conference. You may now disconnect.

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