JA Solar exits downturn just in time

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Despite beating first quarter shipping estimates and reporting rising net revenue, gross profit and operating profit from a second consecutive profitable quarter, Chinese cell maker JA Solar appears to be sailing close to the wind in terms of its balance sheet.

Whilst chairman and CEO Baofang Jin hailed the fact modules made up a rising share of the product mix as well as expansion of the company’s downstream projects and sales to Japan, the margins between the Shanghai company’s assets and debts seem slim.

JA Solar’s cash pile fell from RMB2.1 billion (US$337 million) to RMB1.9 billion in the space of three months for total working capital of RMB1.4 billion. With the company’s short-term borrowings standing at RMB1.1 billion and the amount of long-term debt due to mature within 12 months at RMB736.8 million, the upturn appears to have arrived in the nick of time.

That said, debt-saddled rivals like LDK Solar would be delighted to be in such a finely balanced position at a time when there is a greater emphasis in China on listed companies solving their own problems rather than falling back on state subsidies.

And critics in Europe and the U.S. who claim the Chinese government unfairly supports its solar industry will have raised a wry smile at Jin’s assessment JA Solar’s dip in shipments to China is seasonal and will be corrected by "a strong second half when many SOE-owned (state-owned-enterprise-owned) utility projects begin construction."

The most notable points of JA Solar’s first-quarter figures – reported yesterday – were a 173.2% leap in operating profits on Q4 to RMB160.9 million.

Even that figure failed to equate to a rise in net income after the tax man caught up with the company’s exit from the downturn, ensuring the RMB40 million tax benefit seen in the final three months of last year turned into a RMB14.7 million tax bill.

Looking ahead, Jin predicted an expansion into Latin American and Middle Eastern markets as well as growth in the company’s downstream business in addition to that state-owned infrastructure boost anticipated in its domestic market.