After securing growth of more than 12 GW of new panel orders from utility-scale solar developers since late 2022, First Solar has signed a multi-year secured debt agreement to procure a $1 billion revolving credit facility from major Wall Street banks.
On June 30, the Tempe, Arizona-based producer of U.S.-made solar panels arranged a new credit facility that includes a sub-limit of $250 million of available letters of credit. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank is lead arranger for the new debt, with participation from Bank of America, Citibank, Credit Agricole CIB, PNC Bank, BNP Paribas, Goldman Sachs, HSBC Bank, MUFG Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and Truist Bank.
“This agreement underscores First Solar’s bankability and is underpinned by the strong fundamentals that drive our business today,” said Mark Widmar, chief executive officer, First Solar. “We are focused on exiting this decade in a stronger position than we entered it and liquidity is a crucial differentiator that we intend to maintain. This revolving credit facility provides us the financial headroom and flexibility we need, while also balancing our ability to grow in response to demand for our technology.”
First Solar has seen a period of what the company calls “unprecedented growth,” which will add 8 GW of new production capacity between the second half of 2023 and 2026, when it expects to have a global manufacturing footprint of over 20 GW.
The company disclosed booking more than 12 GW of new orders in its fiscal year 2022, with 4.8 GW since Q422 alone at an average selling price of 32 cents per watt, according to its full year 2022 report.
First Solar is scheduled to commission a new 3.4 GW manufacturing facility in India in the second half of the year while expecting to add a new 3.5 GW factory in Alabama in late 2024 and expanding its existing footprint in Ohio by 900 MW by 2026.
The company is also investing up to $370 million in constructing a new research and development center in Perrysburg, Ohio, which is expected to be commissioned in 2024.
With the revolving debt facility, First Solar will increase its total debt profile to $1.252 billion outstanding leverage. Based on a market consensus that the company should generate more than $670 million in 2023 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), the solar panel producer will have a 1.87 times net leverage profile (debt to EBITDA), based on the market expectation that the company generates at least $500 million in EBITDA in the second half of 2023.
The new five-year credit agreement includes financial covenants mandating the company to not exceed a net leverage ratio of 3.5x and maintain an interest coverage ratio of at least 3x.
Borrowings under the credit facility bear interest at an annual rate based on the current secured overnight financing rate (SOFR) of 5.06%, plus a credit spread adjustment of 0.10%, plus a margin of 1.75% to 2.25% based on its current net leverage ratio, putting the debt facility’s pricing at about 6.9% to 7.4% per year, SEC filings show.
Based in Tempe, Arizona, First Solar is a U.S.-domiciled manufacturer of solar modules, and services the utility solar market. As of December 31, 2022, the company had $2.6 billion in cash and available term debt borrowings, compared to $1.8 billion in liquidity in 2021.
The company reiterated prior guidance given in late 2022 during its April 27 full year report. The domestic solar manufacturer expects 2023 net sales in the range of $3.4 billion to $3.6 billion, with sales volume of 11.6 GW to 12.3 GW for the year.
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