UPDATE 2-First Solar results top Street, shares soar

Wed Apr 29, 2009 4:37pm EDT

*First Solar Q1 EPS $1.99 vs $1.51 estimate

*Revenue more than doubled to $418.2 mln, above estimates

*Shares rise 9.4 percent in extended trade (Adds analyst comment, background, updates share activity)

LOS ANGELES, April 29 (Reuters) - First Solar Inc (FSLR.O) on Wednesday reported quarterly earnings and revenue that topped Wall Street estimates, sending the U.S. solar company's shares up 9.4 percent in extended trade.

The company also said it began the process of finding a replacement for current CEO Michael Ahearn.

First-quarter net income was $164.6 million, or $1.99 per share, compared with $46.6 million, or 57 cents per share, a year ago.

Wall Street analysts, on average, had been expecting earnings of $1.51 per share, according to Reuters Estimates.

"They just look phenomenal," Wedbush Morgan analyst Al Kaschalk said of the results. Kaschalk has a "hold" rating on First Solar shares and owns none.

Revenue more than doubled to $418.2 million from $196.9 million. Analysts had been expecting revenue of $399.9 million, according to Reuters Estimates.

First Solar has been a favorite among alternative energy investors since it went public in 2006. Its cadmium telluride photovoltaic solar panels are cheaper to produce than the silicon-based sells that dominate the market, and as a result the company has had success scoring several big solar power deals with U.S. utilities.

Nevertheless, the Tempe, Arizona company's stock has lost more than 52 percent of its value since hitting a lifetime high of $317 last May. The solar industry has been hit hard since the end of last year by a dearth of funding for new projects that has driven up supplies and sent prices on solar panels falling.

Still First Solar's results were markedly different from those of U.S. rival SunPower Corp SPWRA.O, which last week reported an unexpected quarterly net loss and slashed its outlook for 2009 due to weak demand for its silicon-based solar panels.

Earlier this month, First Solar bought the project pipeline of privately-held rival OptiSolar for $400 million in stock in a bid to expand its presence in the U.S. market for utility-scale solar plants.

First Solar shares rose 9.4 percent to $166 in extended trade after closing at $151.67 on the Nasdaq. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing Bernard Orr)

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