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First Solar: Happy Days Are Here Again

Paul Ausick

First Solar Inc. (FSLR) reported third-quarter 2013 results after the markets closed Thursday afternoon. The solar panel maker posted quarterly adjusted diluted earnings per share (EPS) were $2.28 on revenues of $1.265 billion. In the third quarter of 2012, the company reported EPS of $1.27 on revenues of $839.15 million. The Thomson Reuters estimates called for EPS of $1.00 and $988.63 million in revenue.

Shares were halted in after-hours trading before the results were announced.

The startling jump in revenues is the result of first revenue recognition at the company’s Desert Sunlight project and the sale of ABW projects in Canada, and higher sales volumes to third-party module-only customers.

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Even after such a huge boost in revenues and earnings, First Solar lowered its full-year revenue guidance from a range of $3.6 billion to $3.8 billion to a new range of $3.4 billion to $3.6 billion. Estimated gross margin rose from a prior range of 22% to 23% to a new range of 24% to 26%. The operating income forecast rose from a range of $390 to $410 million to a new range of $470 to $490 million. The estimated EPS range has risen from $3.75 to $4.25 to a new range of $4.25 to $4.50.

The lowered revenue forecast is a bit of a puzzler. If the company continues making more module-only sales to third-party customers, the lower revenues could lead to more profit if the pricing is right. Gross margin is rising after all. From the look of the company’s guidance, they’ve got it figured out. Capital spending is also forecast down by $50 million on each end of the prior range, so that helps boost profits too.

The company’s CEO said:

The third quarter marks a key milestone in our Company’s progress in achieving the strategic objectives we outlined during our Analyst Day event in April. During the quarter we delivered on several key objectives, including additional bookings of 860MWdc, significant reductions to our module manufacturing cost, and strong financial performance. With these encouraging results achieved, we move forward, focusing on strengthening our leadership position in the marketplace and achieving our strategic objectives for future success.

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Shares are up about 8.5% in after-hours at $54.90 in a 52-week range of $22.20 to $59.00. Thomson Reuters had a consensus analyst price target of around $42.00 before today’s report.

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