Sunpower Group's stock fell steeply from 58 cents at the start of October 2018 to 28 cents last Thursday (Nov 1). Then it rebounded on strong volume to 33.5 cents on Friday, triggered partly by a company statement that nothing was amiss. To get up to speed on Sunpower's story, here are excerpts from an earlier article posted on Ernest Lim's blog.


Description of Sunpower

GuoHongXin 2.2016Guo Hong Xin, executive chairman of Sunpower Group. NextInsight file photo.Sunpower is an environmental protection solutions specialist in proprietary energy saving and clean power technologies. It has two main business segments, viz. Manufacturing & Services (“M&S”) and Green Investments (“GI”). M&S segment comprises of Environmental Equipment Manufacturing (“EEM”) and Engineering, Procurement and Construction Integrated Solutions (“EPC”).

Notwithstanding the growth in M&S segment (Sunpower serves blue chip clients such as BASF, BP, Shell etc.), it plans to focus on its GI segment as it generates intrinsic value in the form of long-term, recurring and high-quality cash flows. Please refer to Sunpower’s website HERE for more information.


Investment merits

Industry endorsed by China’s government policies

One of the most attractive aspects of Sunpower is the industry it is in. It is common knowledge that China places environmental protection as one of their utmost priorities. China’s 13th Five-Year Plan for National Eco-environmental Conservation and the enforcement of the Environmental Protection Tax are some examples that China is determined to reduce pollution in the long term.

A July 2018 article by Reuters said China has established a new cross-ministerial leadership group (rather than just to leave solely to the Ministry of Ecology and Environment) to solve pollution in northern regions around Beijing. This also underscores the importance that China places on pollution. In view of these supportive policies, Sunpower seems to be in the right industry with sanguine prospects.

EEM and EPC segments showcase Sunpower’s technology expertise

EEM segment comprises of design, R&D and manufacture of customised energy saving and environmental protection products with proprietary heat transfer technologies. Its products include heat exchangers and pressure vessels, and pipeline energy saving products. According to Sunpower’s annual report 2017, the heat-transfer rate of the Group’s heat pipes and heat pipe exchangers is 3,000 times faster than that of conventional products, and its heat exchangers are able to achieve energy savings of 30%-50%.

This translates into significant cost reduction for customers. This may arguably be the reason why Sunpower has managed to secure two EEM supply contracts worth a total of RMB150m from a single customer in U.S. and RMB 500m worth of contracts from GCL-Poly and other polysilicon companies.


For its EPC segment, one of the systems which Sunpower provides is the Flare and Flare Gas Recovery System. This is used to recover useful petrochemical by-products from flare or waste gas, reduce pollutant discharge into the atmosphere, lowering costs for customers. It is noteworthy that Sunpower is the only officially-appointed supplier of flare systems for Shell from Asia, and one of the three such suppliers for Shell in the world. It secured a contract worth RMB107m from Zhejiang Petrochemical at the start of 2018.

According to the company, this is the largest flare gas recovery system ever in China’s petrochemical industry, which underscores Sunpower’s capability in managing EPC contracts.

Each business segment compliments one another

With Sunpower’s 20 years of track record in the EEM and EPC segments, it has progressed into its GI business with the ownership and operation of centralised steam, heat and electricity plants. These GI projects are built internally as Sunpower has the knowledge and capabilites to do so with its EEM and EPC business segments. Building in-house allows Sunpower to have control over its costs and construction schedule, thereby increasing its competitiveness against other players. Furthermore, its GI business naturally drives demand back to its EEM and EPC segments.

GI – interesting “circular economy” concept

Sunpower has brought recycling to the next level via the circular economy concept where the waste materials of one company or industry become the feedstock for another industry. For example, in Sunpower’s Changrun facility, sludge and treated wastewater from a neighbouring water treatment plant are used as fuel and a clean water substitute to run its boilers.

Sunpower also sells its own waste such as ammonium nitrate and ash to fertiliser and building material factories. Overall, this reduces costs, provides an additional revenue source, and is in line with China’s environmental policies.


GI – clear pipeline of projects

Sunpower has laid out clearly to the investment community of its GI’s existing and planned projects. Such projects, if materialised and successfully executed, should bode well for the growth of their GI segment.

Table 1

Status

Total Investments

(RMB mm) (1)

SP Equity
(RMB mm)

In Operation

1,365.5

616.9

In Final Stage of M&A completion

765.0

306.0

Under Construction

1,560.0

382.2

Amount Invested and Committed

3743.0

1305.1

To be Constructed (2)

653.0

220.4

Pipeline

2386.1

977.2

Total

6782.1

2,502.7

Notes: Based on current estimates or forecast
(1) Assuming -40% equity/60% debt.
(2) Projects have been signed and are currently in the design phase


Sitting on record order books for its EEM & EPC segment

As of Jun 2018, Sunpower was sitting on a record order book of RMB2.0b even after delivering record 1HFY18 revenue. Although Sunpower has many repeat customers (in fact, 70% of their customers in EEM & EPC segments are repeat customers), Sunpower continues to expand into new areas and markets. The contract win amounting to a total RMB150m from a single customer in U.S. is a case in point.

Strategic PE investors’ two consecutive rounds of investments lend vote of confidence

For Sunpower to build up its GI investments, it requires funding. Both DCP and CDH are private equity funds which have extensive experience in investing in China companies and have invested an aggregate US$180m into Sunpower. Some points:

  1. DCP was founded by Mr. David Liu who was a Partner of KKR, Cohead of KKR Asia Private Equity and CEO of KKR Greater China. He has more than 25 years of experience and was responsible for a number of successful investments such as Ping An Insurance, Qingdao Haier Co, Belle International, etc. Mr. Liu currently serves as a non-executive director on the Board. One of the companies which KKR invested (when Mr Liu was at KKR) is in United Envirotech (currently known as Citic Envirotech). KKR started investing in United Envirotech in 2011 through the subscription of US$114m in convertible bonds. In 2013, it invested a further $40m in the form of equity investment into United Envirotech. In Nov 2014, KKR and Citic launched a joint takeover for United Envirotech;

  1. Established in 2002, CDH is one of the leading private equity companies that focuses on growth capital and middle market buyout investments in Greater China. It manages five USD-denominated funds and two RMB-denominated funds, with cumulative assets under management in excess of USD 10.5b. Mr Li Lei is the Managing Director of CDH Investments Management (Hong Kong) Limited since January 2016 and he currently serves as a non-executive director on the Board. Website: http://www.cdhfund.com/index.php/a/lists/catid/169/

  1. The above funds are extremely experienced in investing in Chinese companies. Both funds have invested an aggregate US$180m into Sunpower whose market cap is only US$206m (based on 24 Oct 2018 last traded price $0.385). It stands to reason that both funds would have done considerable due diligence before deciding to invest such a significant amount into Sunpower. This vote of confidence is assuring (at least) to me.


2HFY18 should be stronger than 1HFY18
According to the company, 2HFY18 should be stronger than 1HFY18 due mainly to the following reasons:

a) Completion of Yongxin acquisition on 5 Sep 2018 which is expected to contribute immediately to the top and bottom line;

b) First half is usually seasonaly slower due partially to the Chinese New Year holidays. According to a Lim&Tan report, the 1H typically comprises 30-40% of the entire full year results;

c) Ramp up of GI projects through new pipeline connections and new customers. Firstly, its GI investments can gain traction due to China’s mandatory closure of small “dirty” boilers in existing industrial parks and relocation of new factories into parks served by GI’s centralised boilers.

Secondly, Changrun has successfully connected to the grid last month and electricity revenue will be another source of income from Sep 2018 onwards. Thirdly, Xinyuan should do better in terms of generating heating revenue as it is envisaged that more heat will be supplied in 2HFY18 where the weather becomes colder.

Risks

Analysts’ aggressive estimates for FY18F

Analysts are projecting Sunpower to post strong 2HFY18F EBITDA and net profit of around RMB261m and RMB176m, respectively. It seems to be challenging. It is noteworthy that Sunpower posted 1HFY18 EBITDA and net profit of around RMB145m and RMB73m respectively.

Nevertheless, analysts are positive due to the aforementioned reasons (see above “2HFY18 should be stronger than 1HFY18”). Lim & Tan and UOB ascribe target prices $0.95 and $0.76, respectively.

Forecast

FY18F

RMB m

2HFY18

1HFY18

Lim & Tan

UOB

Revenue

1,952.3

1.219.6

2941.2

3,402.5

EBITDA

261.3

145.4

367.6

445.8

Net Profit

175.9

72.5

250.0

246.8

2HFY18F estimates are derived by using ave(Lim & Tan + UOB) - 1HFY18


Convertible bonds cloud the net profit picture

If readers refer to Sunpower’s 1HFY18 net profit attributable to shareholders, you may get a shock to see that it only registered RMB1.4m net profit. This “low profit” is due to the effects of the convertible bonds which it issued to DCP and CDH. To reflect its true operating performance, company has put in another line called “underlying net profit” in their 1HFY18 results press release. 1HFY18 underlying net profit jumped 25% to RMB72.5m vis-a-vis 1HFY17.

Execution & project management are key
Based on Table 1 above, Sunpower has invested and committed RMB1.3b equity into GI projects. If everything goes according to plan, it may invest and commit another RMB1.2b into new projects. As of now, Sunpower has six GI plants (including Yongxin). Thus, it may still be too early to assess whether Sunpower can effectively execute its strategy of acquiring and operating the GI plants effectively and according to project schedule.

Higher raw material prices affected 1HFY18 gross margins
Sunpower’s gross margins declined from 23.8% in 1HFY17 to 20.1% in 1HFY18 due to a rise in raw material prices. Company has carried out cost control initiatives which should help to combat the rise in raw material prices to some extent.

Leverage to rise with more GI plants
Sunpower plans to finance the GI plants with 60% debt and 40% equity. Thus, its debt is likely to increase over time. Nevertheless, this may be “good debt” as a) according to company, the internal rate of return for such projects is around 15% per annum, thus it seems financially sound to finance partially via debt; b) the cashflows generated by GI are long term, high quality, recurring in nature and subject to less volatility which should be able to easily pay off interest expenses etc (barring unforeseen business failure of one or a number of major user factories)

Lack of liquidity
Although Sunpower’s liquidity has improved this year vis-à-vis last year, its average 30D volume is still around 185K shares per day. This is not a liquid company where investors with meaningful positions can enter or exit quickly.

No direct access to management
I have no direct access to management and am not extremely familiar with the company. This is my first write-up on the company and I am still trying to understand more about the company. Readers who wish to know more about Sunpower can refer to the company website HERE and analyst reports HERE for more information.

Recent selling was accompanied by volume
Recent selling has been fierce and accompanied with above average volume. It is possible that there may be some news known to the market but unknown to me on Sunpower which may explain why the share price dropped so much in the past three days.

Volatile due in part to its illiquidity
As Sunpower is pretty illiquid, it can be quite volatile at times. Average daily range can easily be $0.020 (without any particular news), translating to 5% of share price movement. Thus, it may not be suitable to most people.

Conclusion
Notwithstanding the sharp selloff in the share price, I like the industry which Sunpower is in. Furthermore, their GI investments and the entry of the CDH and DCP seem to bolster confidence. Importantly, readers should do their own due diligence (especially taking into account the recent fierce selloff) as this is just my introductory write-up on Sunpower. I am still learning about the company.


Readers who wish to be notified of my write-ups and / or informative emails, can consider signing up at http://ernest15percent.com. However, this reader’s mailing list has a one or two-day lag time as I will (naturally) send information (more information, more emails with more details) to my clients first. Readers who wish to enquire about becoming my client can consider leaving their contacts here http://ernest15percent.com/index.php/about-me/

P.S: I am vested in Sunpower. Do note that as I am a full time remisier, I can change my trading plan fast to capitalize on the markets’ movements.

Disclaimer
Please refer to the disclaimer HERE


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