First Solar announces surprise fourth-quarter loss, considers sale of development business

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From pv magazine USA.

First Solar’s full-year and fourth-quarter financial results included a surprise loss and a potentially huge announcement.

The big news, aside from the numbers, was First Solar’s intent to evaluate its U.S. project development business. The company is currently believed to sub-contract its engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) services to a third party.

CEO Mark Widmar said First Solar is “at its core … a technology and module manufacturing company. Given the significant evolution of developing utility scale PV projects in the United States, we believe now is an appropriate time to evaluate our options with respect to our U.S. project development business line.”

Options

His statement continued: “The consideration of potential options for its U.S. project development business by First Solar is at a preliminary stage and may not result in any transaction being consummated.”

Shares in the vertically-integrated U.S. thin-film solar firm fell 14% on Friday, after an unexpected fourth-quarter loss was revealed and sales missed analyst targets.

  • The company lost $59 million in the fourth quarter, compared to a $52 million profit a year earlier.
  • Sales were up to $1.4 billion in the quarter, from $691 million in the fourth quarter of 2018
  • Net sales for 2019 were $3.1 billion
  • 6.1 GW of solar was booked in 2019 and 700 MW has been booked so far in this year

CEO Widmar attempted to emphasize the success of the company’s latest module and said: “Despite our reported loss, I am pleased with the continued execution of our Series 6 roadmap.”

2020 forecast

First Solar also provided 2020 guidance and forecast:

  • Net sales of $2.7-2.9 billion with third-party module sales expected to comprise around 70% of the total;
  • Gross margin of 26-27%;
  • Earnings per share of $3.25-3.75; and
  • Shipments of 5.8-6 GW

The EPC announcement confirmed a rumor First Solar was moving out of the development business. Vertical integration, as compatriot panel maker SunPower has learned, does not appear to be the optimum corporate structure at this stage in the U.S. solar market.

This story was amended on 24/02/19 to reflect First Solar is believed to sub-contract its EPC services to a third party rather than performing the work in-house.

By Eric Wesoff