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First Solar (FSLR) Soars 12% On Strong Q1 Report, Could It Be Headed for More Fun in the Sun?

Benjamin Rains

First Solar, Inc. FSLR is basking in the sun of Tuesday’s positive first quarter earnings report. But does this uptick signal things could be turning around for the struggling solar energy company, or will the clouds clear only briefly?

After a steady decline in its stock price over the last year, First Solar posted revenue of $891.79 million, up from $876.07 million a year ago—maybe more importantly, that number also came in well above Wall Street estimates of roughly $668 million. First Solar posted net sales of $892 million, an increase of $561 million year-over-year. 

First Solar also updated its guidance for full-year 2017. The company now expects revenue in the range of $2.85 billion to $2.95 billion, up from its prior view of $2.8 billion to $2.9 billion.

Based partially on those more positive figures, First Solar’s stock price continued to soar, closing up 11.84% to $33.91 per share on Wednesday. The company, which builds large-scale photovoltaic (PV) power stations and panels, is a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

Potentially Positive Signs

The solar energy company wants to bring affordable solar energy around the world while also remaining cost competitive against its fossil fuels competitors. First Solar’s website boasts the claim that “no company invests more in R&D.”

But the company fell back to earth quickly after its stock initially skyrocketed to $290 per share in 2008. Shares of First Solar reached an all-time low of roughly $12 per share in May 2012. The company then gained some momentum, climbing back up to $71 per share by February 2016.

Part of the reason for the down tick is that the U.S. solar industry has been hit hard by an array of market factors. One of the biggest: many companies found it hard to turn a large profit or stay competitive while some Chinese solar panel manufacturers cut their prices by so much that they were almost selling panels at a loss. But this could be changing.

Atlanta, Georgia-based solar manufacturer Suniva filed a petition last week with the U.S. International Trade Commission to impose temporary tariffs on Chinese-made solar cells and modules. The company stated that these products are being sold in the U.S. below market prices.

Also last week, JMP Securities LLC upgraded First Solar to a “buy,” followed by a few other Wall Street analysts.

On top of these recent developments, Investopedia noted that solar accounted for almost 40% of all new energy installations in 2016. The same article also pointed out that since 2010 the solar workforce has tripled. The industry now employees more people than natural gas and almost doubles the coal industry. If that wasn’t enough, price performance has also been strong. The Zacks Alternative Energy industry was up 15.4% over the last year, compared to a 0.8% loss for the broader Oil/Energy sector.

Bottom Line

First Solar is up big after a strong first quarter earnings report and guidance. The solar panel industry is growing, and with Tesla Inc. TSLA taking over Ford F in market cap, it seems like the trend is signaling that the energy and vehicle sectors will eventually shift towards renewable.

But it remains to be seen if this shift toward solar and renewable will happen soon enough for First Solar and its investors.

Want to know more about the sector as a whole? Read our Zacks industry outlook: Will Global Investments Boost Alternative Energy Stocks?

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