Second Look at Solar Earnings: Still Cause for Concern (FSLR, SPWR, TSL, YGE, LDK, STP, JASO)

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After markets closed last night, the two leading US solar PV makers, First Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR) and SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWR), reported first quarter earnings. Both reported EPS losses, but SunPower’s loss was not as large as expected and First Solar’s loss was not expected at all.

Two of China’s five large solar PV makers will report quarterly results later this month. Trina Solar Ltd. (NYSE: TSL) reports on May 17th and is expected to post an EPS loss of $0.29 on revenues of $396.3 million, a revenue decline of about -28% compared with the same period last year. Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. Ltd. (NYSE: YGE) reports on May 15th and the consensus estimates call for an EPS loss of -$0.21 on revenue of $448.8 million, a drop of nearly -15% in revenues year-over-year.

LDK Solar Co. Ltd. (NYSE: LDK) won’t report first quarter earnings until later, but it posted a huge EPS loss of -$4.63 in the fourth quarter and is expected to show an EPS loss of -$0.88 on revenue of $265.4 million, a revenue drop of more than -65% year-over-year. Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. (NYSE: STP) also reports late, but its fourth quarter EPS loss totaled -$0.76 and first quarter estimates call for an EPS loss of -$0.50 on revenue of $410.9 million, a -53% dive in sales. JA Solar Holdings Co. Ltd. (NASDAQ: JASO) reports later as well, following a fourth quarter loss of -$0.11 and estimates for another EPS loss of -$0.15 on revenues of $234.7 million, a revenue decline of more than -57%.

First Solar’s quarterly sales of $497 million were $163 million lower sequentially and $70 million lower than the same period a year ago. The adjusted EPS loss for the quarter was -$0.08, and the GAAP loss was a whopping -$5.20/share, some $4.64 of which went to cover restructuring charges and another $0.48 covered excess warranty expenses. Analysts had consensus estimates for EPS of $0.59 on revenue of $681.5 million.

SunPower’s quarterly revenues came in light as well, at $494.1 million versus an estimate of $525.4 million. The adjusted EPS loss of -$0.12 was better than the estimated loss of -$0.15.

The dismal report notwithstanding, First Solar raised its full-year adjusted EPS guidance from $3.75-$4.25 to $4.00-$4.50, compared with a consensus estimate of $4.07. The company also anticipates an increase in its operating cash flow, from $800-$900 million to a new range of $850-$950 million.

SunPower said next quarter’s EPS loss would range from -$0.20 to -$0.05, compared with a consensus estimate of -$0.05. The second quarter revenue estimate was unchanged at $575-$650 million versus a consensus estimate of $638.9 million.

First Solar and SunPower are both restructuring (shrinking) as fast as they can with an eye toward lowering costs to a level at which the companies can again make a profit. The catch is that their Chinese competitors are doing the same thing, and in this race to the bottom there can never be a real winner. Any companies left standing will be staggering badly.

First Solar’s shares are down more than -5.5% today at $17.05 after posting a new 52-week low of $16.93 earlier. The previous range was $17.50-$142.22. SunPower’s shares are down about -1.8% at $5.60 in a 52-week range of $4.94-$23.36.

The Chinese companies are mixed, with Yingli up about 3% and JA Solar down about -3% with the others spread around in between.

Paul Ausick

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