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Monday Comment: the rollercoaster ride of Sinovel

The results season tends to highlight the theory that all news is cyclical. Yet last week's Sinovel announcement that it made a profit in 2014 raised eyebrows -- not least its own -- as it had already predicted a loss for the year.

It would be a milestone of sorts because the former number two wind turbine manufacturer in the world has not hit positive results since 2010. Of course there was a caveat to this most recent announcement - it has yet to be audited. So it's not really a definitive announcement then.

In most cases, stating inaccurate results would be considered newsworthy in itself. Except, in Sinovel's case, this is definitely cyclical as it has been investigated by the Chinese authorities for doing this very same thing with its 2012 results.

Anyone looking at the wind industry now would wonder at the importance of Sinovel's results. It's barely in the top five Chinese manufacturers and is making little effort to expand overseas. And unlike other Chinese manufacturers who are not mired in legal battles with former customers/suppliers.

However, a portion of China's installed capacity consists of Sinovel's Fuhrlander-designed 1.5MW turbines. It has installed more offshore turbines in China than any other company and has a 5MW turbine in the ground. And it was only in 2010 when it raised $3.5 billion in an IPO on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

All of this changed, literally overnight, when the company refused an order for millions of dollars worth of electrical systems from US firm AMSC. That was followed shortly by a case of industrial espionage when an AMSC employee was charged with giving Sinovel source code.

At the root of it was a classic case of overproduction capacity and an inability to cope when the Chinese government decided to crack down on an installation rate that was running out of control. The company has since admitted having warehouses full of turbines.

Since then bad new about Sinovel has become a common — recurring if not quite cyclical — event. In the last two years, it has lost more chairmen than Spinal Tap have have had drummers as evidenced from July's headline 'Sinovel loses third chairman in 18 months'. And beyond AMSC, it is fighting two other major players in the Chinese sector. Huaneng has hit it with a claim for $15 million as legal permission to withhold $1 billion-plus in warranty payments.

Meanwhile at the other end, Sinovel is attempting to grab payments from several Longyuan projects for money owed in the region of $66 million.

The most tragic event happened in 2011 when five people, including a senior Communist Party official and his wife, were killed after a contractor's crawler crane toppled while rehearsing installation of a Sinovel 5MW turbine.

The more mundane stories are the 197% fall in earnings, the second investigation from the Chinese authorities and the fact it had been suspended from the Shanghai Stock Exchange, as well as putting staff on "enforced unpaid holiday" and stripping budget from the R&D department.

If it gets the thumbs up on its figures, it will go a long way towards regaining some respect for a company some suspected would not be around for much longer. However, even if it avoids a delisting from the Shanghai Stock Exchange and comes through its court battle with AMSC, it seems unlikely the company will ever recover to the position it held at the beginning of 2010.

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