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Earnings Not Telling The Story For First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR)

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With a median price-to-earnings (or "P/E") ratio of close to 17x in the United States, you could be forgiven for feeling indifferent about First Solar, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:FSLR) P/E ratio of 17.8x. Although, it's not wise to simply ignore the P/E without explanation as investors may be disregarding a distinct opportunity or a costly mistake.

Recent times have been advantageous for First Solar as its earnings have been rising faster than most other companies. One possibility is that the P/E is moderate because investors think this strong earnings performance might be about to tail off. If you like the company, you'd be hoping this isn't the case so that you could potentially pick up some stock while it's not quite in favour.

View our latest analysis for First Solar

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Keen to find out how analysts think First Solar's future stacks up against the industry? In that case, our free report is a great place to start.

What Are Growth Metrics Telling Us About The P/E?

In order to justify its P/E ratio, First Solar would need to produce growth that's similar to the market.

If we review the last year of earnings growth, the company posted a terrific increase of 467%. Although, its longer-term performance hasn't been as strong with three-year EPS growth being relatively non-existent overall. So it appears to us that the company has had a mixed result in terms of growing earnings over that time.

Turning to the outlook, the next three years should bring diminished returns, with earnings decreasing 2.8% per year as estimated by the analysts watching the company. Meanwhile, the broader market is forecast to expand by 12% per annum, which paints a poor picture.

With this information, we find it concerning that First Solar is trading at a fairly similar P/E to the market. Apparently many investors in the company reject the analyst cohort's pessimism and aren't willing to let go of their stock right now. Only the boldest would assume these prices are sustainable as these declining earnings are likely to weigh on the share price eventually.

The Bottom Line On First Solar's P/E

Generally, our preference is to limit the use of the price-to-earnings ratio to establishing what the market thinks about the overall health of a company.

Our examination of First Solar's analyst forecasts revealed that its outlook for shrinking earnings isn't impacting its P/E as much as we would have predicted. When we see a poor outlook with earnings heading backwards, we suspect share price is at risk of declining, sending the moderate P/E lower. This places shareholders' investments at risk and potential investors in danger of paying an unnecessary premium.

It's always necessary to consider the ever-present spectre of investment risk. We've identified 1 warning sign with First Solar, and understanding should be part of your investment process.

Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with a strong growth track record, trading on a P/E below 20x.

This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.