UPDATE 1-First Solar fails to give '13 outlook, shares fall

Tue Feb 26, 2013 4:51pm EST

By Nichola Groom

LOS ANGELES Feb 26 (Reuters) - First Solar Inc on Tuesday reported a quarterly profit, reversing a year-ago loss, but the U.S. solar company's shares fell 8 percent after it failed to offer an earnings and sales outlook for 2013.

Net income was $154.2 million, or $1.74 per share, compared with a loss of $485.3 million, or $4.78 per share, a year ago, when it recorded large impairment charges.

Excluding one-time items, First Solar earned $2.04 per share. Wall Street analysts, on average, had been expecting $1.75 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Net sales were $1.08 billion, up from $660.4 million a year ago, as it recorded large gains from key utility-scale projects.

First Solar, like others in the industry, has struggled due to a sharp drop in the price of solar panels that has squeezed profit margins and forced companies around the world to shut down plants or, in many cases, go out of business.

The Tempe, Arizona, company has shifted its focus over the last year to markets that do not require government subsidies to make solar power affordable, such as the Middle East, India and Chile.

First Solar, however, is continuing to build a string of massive solar power projects in the U.S. West, including the 550-megawatt Topaz solar farm in central California.

But two major planned projects -- the 300 MW Stateline Solar Farm in California and the 250 MW Silver State South project in Nevada -- are still awaiting permits, and it is unclear when the company will recognize revenue from them.

"It was going to be difficult for First Solar to give any guidance that implied any contribution from those projects," Pacific Crest analyst Ben Schuman said.

Schuman added that the company was also likely awaiting the outcome of a trade dispute between the European Union and Chinese panel manufacturers, and a U.S. challenge at the World Trade Organization to India's national solar program.

First Solar shares were down 8 percent at $28.86 in extended trade after closing at $31.36 on the Nasdaq.

Investors pushed solar company shares to record lows last year, but they have rallied sharply since late in 2012. First Solar shares have soared 178 percent since June of last year.

For the first quarter, First Solar expects to earn between 70 cents and 90 cents per share on net sales of $650 million to $750 million. Analysts are expecting earnings of 89 cents per share, on average, and revenue of $826.87 million.

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