JA Solar bounces back to profits

Chinese PV manufacturer JA Solar returned to profits in the fourth-quarter and guided for a full year of profitability in 2014, thanks to the booming Chinese and Japanese solar markets.

JA “ended 2013 on a strong note”, says chief executive Baofang Jin, recording a fourth-quarter profit of $23m – compared to a net loss of $38m in the previous quarter.

The company swallowed a net loss of $70.5m for 2013, but confirmed its expectation that it will be profitable for the whole of this year.

JA’s full-year revenues for 2013 rose a relatively modest 9% to $1.2bn.

“Stabilisation of the pricing environment coupled with our continuous cost-reduction efforts enabled us to expand our gross margin to over 15%,” explains Jin.

Of JA’s 2.1GW of shipments last year, some 55% were modules, with the rest coming from cells, JA's traditional bread-and-butter. That suggests a slowdown in the pace of the company's previously breakneck push into modules, due to the high level of demand for its cells (and cell-tolling services) in Japan.

For that reason, JA’s ranking among the world’s largest module suppliers fell in 2013, as it lost ground to Chinese rivals like ReneSola and Hanwha SolarOne, and Japanese suppliers like Kyocera.

JA’s strength in Japan meant that the percentage of its shipments staying within China actually decreased slightly year-on-year, to 53%, while the percentage of its shipments going to the rest of Asia more than doubled, to 34%.

“With Japan expected to remain a major growth driver in 2014, we’re pleased to have solidified our position there as one of the leading international solar suppliers,” says Jin.

Earlier this year JA Solar announced plans to jointly build a module-assembly plant in South Africa alongside local partner Powerway.

Jin guided for 2.7GW-2.9GW of shipments in 2014 – a 30% boost on 2013’s total – and said the company will “continue to explore” downstream opportunities.

“In 2014 we plan to build out our position in key markets across Asia, Europe and North America, while exploring opportunities in fast-growing regions including Latin America and the Middle East, where we have gained a solid foothold in recent months,” Jin says.