December 21, 2009 / 11:31 PM / 10 years ago

First Solar, fund manager in tussle over cab fare

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Solar power industry bellwether First Solar Inc and a fund manager who has wagered the company’s stock will fall are locked in a tiff over a $9 cab fare, after the bear manager was invited to a meeting in Times Square and then asked to leave.

Andrew Kaplan, who manages one of five funds at Harvest Capital Strategies LLC, said he accepted an invitation from the company’s external media relations company.

But he was asked to leave the December 16 event before it started, said Kaplan, who holds a short position on the company’s stock.

The fund manager ducked into a cab for a $9 ride back up town to his Manhattan office near Central Park to catch a webcast of the meeting where First Solar’s top executives gave their forecast for 2010 for the company and the solar power industry.

Kaplan later emailed the company asking it to refund the fare.

“I have always conducted myself with decorum at other events, and my questions to management members have always been pertinent and respectful,” Kaplan wrote in the email.

First Solar said in an email that Kaplan was invited to the event by mistake, which the company did not catch in advance.

The company noted that most of the 1,200 people who participated listened to webcast remarks and that it invited analysts and investors “who are critical of First Solar as well as those with favorable opinions.”

Kaplan, whose firm’s five funds oversee about $1 billion in total, said that he took a short position on First Solar about six months ago. Short selling is the sale of borrowed shares with the intention of buying them back in the future at a lower price.

“It’s no secret that I’m negative on the stock but it’s nothing personal ... I think they’re running a company that’s going to run into a lot of trouble in 2010,” Kaplan said in an interview.

Kaplan said that First Solar faces a growing cost disadvantage from competitors that make silicon-based solar panels since the cost of the raw material polysilicon has fallen dramatically.

First Solar, one of the world’s largest solar module makers, has the lowest production costs in the industry. Its cadmium telluride-based panels that convert sunlight to electricity are cheaper to make but less efficient than traditional silicon-based panels.

Shares of First Solar closed up nearly 1 percent at $136.99 on Monday. Short sellers held 12.6 million shares — or 29.4 percent — of the company’s total float as of November 30.

Reporting by Laura Isensee; Editing by Phil Berlowitz

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