* First Solar posts loss, SunPower tops Wall St view
* First Solar names new CEO
* Shares near flat it post-market trading
By Matt Daily and Braden Reddall
May 3 First Solar posted a surprise
quarterly loss on Thursday, but raised its full-year profit
outlook as it drives down production costs for its solar panels,
while peer SunPower Corp slightly beat Wall Street
The shares of the two largest U.S.-based solar makers were
nearly flat in post market trading.
Solar makers have seen profit margins evaporate over the
last year as prices for the modules that turn sunlight into
electricity have fallen sharply amid a global supply glut and
declining government subsidies in Europe, the biggest market.
First Solar, the industry's lowest cost solar panel maker,
also said it named James Hughes as its new chief executive to
replace Rob Gillette, who was ousted by the company in October
Hughes joined First Solar in March as chief commercial
officer and will take over from Chairman Mike Ahearn, who had
been serving as the interim CEO.
One analyst said Hughes, who had been the CEO of AEI, a
Houston-based company that operates power plants and natural gas
projects in emerging markets, appeared to be a good fit for
First Solar, which is hoping to increase sales in several
"He's the right person to take the company in that
direction," said Edwin Mok, an analyst with Needham & Co.
First Solar, which announced last month it would cut 30
percent of its workforce as it moves to cuts costs, raised its
forecast for full-year earnings per share to between $4.00 and
$4.50 from the $3.75 to $4.25 per share it previously targeted.
The company posted a net loss for the first quarter of $449
million, or $5.20 per share, hurt by a drop in the sales price
of its panels.
Excluding restructuring costs and charges to replace faulty
panels, First Solar posted a loss of 8 cents per share, missing
analysts' average forecast for a profit of 9 cents.
Net sales in the quarter slipped 12 percent to $497 million.
Still, First Solar pointed to its backlog of large-scale
solar power plants as key to protecting profits in the coming
years, including the 550-megawatt Topaz plant that just started
First Solar, whose shares have tumbled 46 percent so far
this year after being the worst performing stock in the Standard
& Poors' 500 last year, faces stiff competition from solar
manufacturers such as Yingli Green Energy Holding Co Ltd
and Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd, which have benefited
from steep drops in the price of polysilicon, the key raw
material in their solar panels.
First Solar, which uses cadmium telluride rather than
polysilicon, said the cost to produce its panels fell to 69
cents per watt, a drop of 5 percent from a year ago, excluding
costs for running plants below capacity and share-based
SunPower, whose polysilicon-based panels are the world's
most efficient, reported a 9 percent increase in first-quarter
revenue and a loss that was bigger than a year before, but not
as wide as analysts expected.
The company, majority owned by French oil giant Total SA
, posted a net loss for the quarter of $74.5 million,
or 67 cents per share.
Excluding one-time items, SunPower made a loss of 12 cents
per share, compared with the average analyst estimate of a
15-cent loss, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
SunPower has also been racing to cut production costs and
rein in manufacturing to help work off a supply glut on the
global market. SunPower said last month it would consolidate its
Philippine manufacturing operations to cut capital expenditure
and cost per watt.