As First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) prepares to announce earnings July 27, FSLR stock and the company is coming out from behind clouds that have covered the industry since November.
The election of Donald Trump, his antipathy to solar power and the knowledge that any government help to the industry will soon go away, has cast a shadow on the industry.
But the realization that solar panels can now compete, in many markets, against other forms of power without subsidy is now raising shares in names like FSLR stock.
In the last three months, shares of First Solar are up 56.6%, and views among analysts have shifted in its favor. Now 7 of the 18 analysts following the stock call it a buy, and none says sell it. The analysts expect 2 cents per share of earnings on $535.50 million of revenue tomorrow, but there is a “whisper” of 11 cents. That would be huge.
FSLR and Utility Buyers
Utilities, it seems, are still willing to buy solar power. EDF Renewable Power, an arm of Electricite de France SA, said last week it bought 179 Mwatts of Nevada projects from First Solar in late June, with contracts to sell the power on to units of NV Energy, owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A, NYSE:BRK.B).
FSLR stock and other producers had been hit by a bust in “yieldcos,” companies formed to buy projects and sell the power. First Solar created such an instrument with SunPower in 2015 called 8Point3 Energy Partners LP (NASDAQ:CAFD), which has lost nearly one-third of its value since it was launched, despite a dividend yielding 7.3%. Selling it, possibly to NextEra Energy Partners LP (NYSE:NEP), would be bullish.
The interest by utilities was enough to cause Axiom analyst Gordon Johnson, a noted solar bear, to put a “buy” rating on FSLR stock with expectations that this week’s earnings report will “dazzle.” He says the company is selling out of its production of solar modules at 50-60 cents per watt through the third quarter of 2018.
In addition to continued sales, First Solar is benefiting from hope that the industry’s dumping case against China will go well, and that its Series 6 panels may finally hit the market. Johnson says the good news may be short-term, but that investors want to believe the solar story and will pile into the sector.
FSLR Stock Buyers
InvestorPlace writers have also come around on First Solar.
James Brumley says that FSLR stock is “quickly becoming a great bet,” citing Axiom’s shift from yelling sell in February to urging that people buy now.
He writes that the recent rally may result in a profit-taking pullback, but that won’t be to its former levels, meaning the scene is set for another rally in the stock. He warns that it remains speculative.
The Bottom Line on First Solar
Solar stocks had a heyday early this decade, even before the shale boom began, and their fall began as the shale boom was ramping up. Since the oil bust of 2014, these stocks have gone nowhere fast.
But just as shale oil producers have learned to make do on $45 per barrel oil, so solar panel producers have learned to eke out a profit on panels priced at 50 cents per watt. New technology could drive costs down further, even faster than the oilpatch can lower its costs, so over time big sales are certain.
Whether those sales yield profit is always the question. Skies are clearing for First Solar right now, but there are still plenty of clouds and a chance of rain.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of the historical mystery romance The Reluctant Detective Travels in Time. available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing, he owned no shares in companies discussed in this story.
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