First Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR) is no longer one of the darlings of the Nasdaq, and when it comes to investors, the excitement around solar power and alternative energy is just not what it used to be. Still, you wouldn’t know that the current administration’s up-talking of oil, coal and fossil fuels was even a factor if you just looked at the stock price reaction of more than 20% gains after First Solar’s earnings report.
We covered that earnings report in depth, but 24/7 Wall St. noticed that analysts on Wall Street also were raising their price targets and expectations on the stock after the report.
The company talked up its own numbers for 2017 for annual sales of $3.0 billion to $4.1 billion and gross margin of 17% to 18%. Its prior forecast for earnings per share of $2.00 to $2.50 was raised to $2.40 to $2.60 per share.
And First Solar’s cash position remains enviable among solar and alternative energy players. Its cash and marketable securities at the end of the third quarter was $2.7 billion, up from $2.2 billion in the prior quarter. The company signaled that the increase in its cash was primarily from cash received from projects sold in the third quarter, and the cash flow from operations was $581 million during that quarter.
Merrill Lynch reiterated its Buy rating on First Solar and went as far as to call this the one stock to own in the universe of solar stocks. The firm has a $75 price objective.
According to Merrill Lynch, the “beat and raise” quarter, the Suniva trade remedies and long-term fundamentals all bode well. It even expects that increasing module prices can lead to margin and earnings per share expansion, and the firm noted a possible upside to its estimates depending on potential tariffs. The firm’s investment rationale says this:
Our Buy rating is based on our view that management is able to execute effectively on its Series 6 roll-out. We find the stock to be attractive at its current valuation, and see a number of positive catalysts for the company including monetizing its YieldCo stake, as well as the Section 201 petition from Suniva which could help stabilize module prices.
Needham raised its rating to Buy from Hold and assigned a $60 price target.
JMP Securities reiterated its Market Outperform rating with a $65 price target. Unfortunately, the company didn’t have many great new things to say because the good numbers were driven by revenue timing issues that the firm said it has previously discussed.
Three other price target hikes were seen as well:
- Cowen raised its target price to $60 from $57.
- JPMorgan raised its target price to $58 from $50.
- Robert W. Baird raised its target price from $50 to $53.
Mark Widmar, CEO of First Solar, said with earnings:
Third quarter results were highlighted by record bookings and strong earnings resulting from the sale of our California Flats project. Our 4.5GWdc of bookings demonstrates both the robust market demand for our Series 4 and Series 6 module technology, and the acceleration of procurement timing by certain customers. Closing the sale of our California Flats project was also an important milestone toward achieving our financial guidance for the year. While we are pleased with our recent results, we continue to be intently focused on the success of our Series 6 transition.
First Solar shares were last seen trading up more than 20% at $55.67. That put the shares near an 18-month high. Its market cap is about $6 billion.
One driver of the shares may have been tied in part to the short interest. First Solar’s most recent short interest data rose by 3% to 5.75 million shares. That represents about 7.5% of the company’s float, but the days to cover rose from one to four.
What stood out about this post-earnings reaction was that the stock was only indicated up about 7% in the wee-hours of Friday. Sometimes strength gets magnified by short sellers, and then there was all the added excitement around Microsoft, Intel, Amazon and Alphabet, which may have even spilled over into the wide world of solar. The Nasdaq Composite was up 147 points right before the close to an uncharted level of 6,703.