First Solar’s Earnings Dazzle Investors

November 1, 2013 by Paul Ausick

Solar rooftop installation
Source: Thinkstock
Thin-film solar PV maker First Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR) positively pounded earnings and revenues estimates when it reported third-quarter results Thursday evening after markets closed. Adjusted earnings per share (EPS) of $2.28 on revenues of nearly $1.3 billion far outpaced the consensus calls for EPS of $1.00 and revenues of $988.63 million.

The massive beat is little more than a function of the timing of when First Solar recognizes revenue on payments after reaching large-project milestones. In the third quarter, the company recognized its first milestone payment for its Desert Sunlight project. First Solar also sold some Canadian projects. The revenue was always expected, it was just a matter of when it would arrive.

One surprising thing is that the company said it had higher sales volumes to third-party module-only customers. Another surprise was that First Solar cut its revenue guidance for the full year from a range of $3.6 billion to $3.8 billion to a new range of $3.4 billion to $3.6 billion, at the same time that it raised its estimates both for gross margins and for EPS. The EPS guidance jumped from a prior range of $3.75 to $4.25 to a new range of $4.25 to $4.50.

If the company continues making more module-only sales to third-party customers, the lower revenues could lead to more profit, if First Solar gets its pricing right. Apparently the rise in the company’s estimate of its gross margins indicates that First Solar expects more profit on its module sales. Capital spending is also forecast down by $50 million on each end of the prior range. Thus, the projected rise in earnings could well be conservative.

Shares rose more than 8% in after-hours trading on Thursday and were up about 17% in late morning trading on Friday to $58.76, after posting a new 52-week high of $59.19. The 52-week low is $22.20, and the consensus analyst price target was around $42.00 before the earnings report.