I'll say it right up front: JA Solar (NASDAQ:JASO) is a business that I would probably never invest in.

While I noted in a recent look at Trina Solar's (NYSE:TSL) year-end results that this is not a terrible time to operate smack in the middle of the solar supply chain, such positioning also doesn't leave much room to widen one's competitive moat over time. As long as they meet a certain quality threshold, cells are cells, so the low-cost manufacturer wins. The prime beneficiaries of this competitive bout will be consumers, rather than cell makers.

But that's just me. More than 1,100 of you have rated this cell-slinger to stomp the S&P in Motley Fool CAPS -- signaling more enthusiasm than exists for attractively priced, proven winners like Air Products & Chemicals (NYSE:APD) or General Dynamics (NYSE:GD) -- so I'll keep doing my best to bring you the coverage you crave.

If you've been following this story since the deflationary fall, you already knew the fourth quarter was pretty much a disaster. Now we have the hard numbers: Since the previous quarter, shipments dropped about 38%, and revenues plunged 54% on lower average sales prices. These figures make Suntech Power's (NYSE:STP) performance look like a home run, while the numbers at Energy Conversion Devices (NASDAQ:ENER) seem positively heroic in comparison.

Now, here's the twist. JA Solar looks to be in pretty fine shape going forward. The company's sewn up a sweet deal supplying cells to BP (NYSE:BP), and has firm orders for about 80% of projected 2009 volumes. Key material costs are plummeting, while customer contracts are generally fixed in price. To top it all off, JA Solar is only planning $15 million of capital expenditures for the entire year, versus $51 million in the past quarter.

There's a caveat here, of course. 2009 simply marks a lull for this company in the relentless contest to scale up and cut costs. JA Solar is going to have to get back on that treadmill before too long, and as an investor, that is not where I want to be.

Suntech Power is a Rule Breakers recommendation. Air Products is an Income Investor selection. See if you take a shine to any of our Foolish newsletters with a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Toby Shute liberally applies his thumb in CAPS under the name TMFSmashy, but he doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy doesn't mind the treadmill, so long as there's a nearby television tuned to ESPN.