First Solar Asset Sale Boosts Earnings

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First Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR) reported third quarter 2015 results after markets closed Thursday afternoon. For the quarter, the solar energy company posted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $3.38 on revenues of $1.27 billion. In the same period a year ago, the company reported EPS of $0.87 on revenues of $889.31 million. Third-quarter results compare to the Thomson Reuters consensus estimates for EPS of $1.55 on revenues of $1.11 billion.

The big jump in GAAP EPS is the result of higher gross margins associated with the majority sale of the Desert Stateline project, improvements in systems project costs and a decrease in our module collection and recycling obligation, which reduced cost of sales by $70 million and operating expenses by $10 million.

First Solar sold its controlling interest in the 300-megawatt Desert Stateline project to to an affiliate of Southern Company for an unspecified price. Year-over-year net income in the third quarter rose by $314 million, so the sale was at a price something less than that.

First Solar raised fiscal 2015 EPS guidance to a new range of $4.30 to $4.50 per share and confirmed full-year revenues of $3.5 to $3.6 billion. The consensus estimate called for EPS of $3.43 on revenues of $3.57 billion.

The company’s CEO, Jim Hughes, said:

We had tremendous execution in the third quarter from both a financial and bookings perspective. We have now exceeded our book-to-bill target for the year, booked over 1GW-dc of volume with deliveries after 2016, achieved strong quarterly earnings and have significantly raised our full year earnings guidance. We remain confident in our long term strategy and our ability to execute successfully.

Investors like what they heard. Shares traded up more than 10% in the after-hours session Thursday at $56.20 in a 52-week range of $39.18 to $65.50. The consensus price target is $62.59.

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