SunPower fourth quarter tops Street, 2014 view disappoints

LOS ANGELES Wed Feb 12, 2014 7:08pm EST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - SunPower Corp (SPWR.O) on Wednesday reported a quarterly profit that soared past Wall Street estimates on strong solar demand in the U.S. utility and residential markets, but its 2014 outlook disappointed as investors had hoped for more from the fast-growing company.

SunPower shares fell more than 3 percent in after-hours trade.

After several years of enduring a global oversupply of solar panels, rapidly falling product prices and elusive profits, SunPower is once again making money. Investors have been pleased with the company's progress and its stock has gained 250 percent since hitting a 52-week low in April 2013.

Majority owned by French energy giant Total SA (TOTF.PA), SunPower said it is benefiting from improved financing for solar projects in the United States, strong demand for its products in Japan and a partnership with Total that is helping expansion in overseas markets like Chile and South Africa.

In the United States, SunPower is seeing strong growth in both utility, commercial and residential installations. Last month it said Bank of America would provide $220 million to finance its residential solar leases, and on Wednesday it said it would consider spinning off some of its utility-scale or commercial projects into a separate entity known as a "yieldco."

Chief Executive Tom Werner said in an interview that the company would likely either sell assets to another yieldco or launch its own next year.

SunPower's fourth-quarter net income totaled $22.3 million, or 15 cents per share, compared with a net loss of $144.8 million, or $1.22 per share, in the same quarter a year ago.

Excluding one-time items, the company earned 47 cents a share, beating the average Wall Street estimate of 28 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

For full-year 2014, SunPower forecast earnings before items of $1 to $1.30 a share - essentially in line with analysts' average forecast of $1.18. The company last year had said 2014 earnings per share would be at least $1.

"The market was hoping for more," Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov said in an email.

SunPower shares slid to $30.55 in extended trade after closing at $31.62 on the Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Jonathan Oatis, G Crosse and Diane Craft)

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