First Solar Dims, but Here's Some Light - Analyst Blog


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The largest U.S. solar panel manufacturer, First Solar Inc. ( FSLR ), not only reported disappointing fourth quarter 2013 results but also came up with weak first quarter guidance. This dealt a huge blow to investor confidence, leading to a 12% plunge in its share price in after-hours trading on Feb 25 and over 9% the following day.

This solar giant reported fourth quarter earnings of 89 cents per share, which missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 11% and came in 56.4% lower than the year-ago earnings. Revenues also plunged 29% year over year to $768.4 million and fell short of the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $974 million. Lower business project revenue was the primary reason for this huge miss.

First Solar's numbers look particularly wan in contrast to a solar energy largely on the mend after two years of a punishing downturn. Presently, China, Japan and the U.S are driving demand for solar panels. Solar majors -- comprising polysilicon manufacturers and panel makers -- active in Asia are expected to gain traction as the industry oversupply shrinks.

Solar is now a global phenomenon and the industry can no longer be regarded as a niche sector. It is breaking out as the most happening thing in energy today.

Notably, 2013 showed astounding scale in the Chinese market, overtaking longtime leader Germany. This year, solar developers around the globe are expected to install record capacity as a booming Chinese market drives growth.

Moreover, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that U.S. solar energy consumption will rise by roughly 35% in 2014. The increase in demand is likely to fuel top-line growth at the solar manufacturers.

In spite of First Solar's earnings debacle, we believe the momentum is intact for the solar sector with the preeminent stocks continuing with their forward march in 2014. Below we have hand- picked two solar stocks that have the potential to give a solid return in the near term, if the sector dynamics remains favorable.

JinkoSolar Holdings Co. ( JKS )

This Zacks Ranked #1 (Strong Buy) China-based company specializes in low-cost production and supply of solar panels with operations across Europe, North America and Asia. A vertically-integrated firm with a global focus could be a great pick in the solar space. JinkoSolar is strategically balanced to take advantage of China's flourishing solar industry as well as other emerging solar nations.

The company has also displayed an impressive earnings trajectory following a disastrous Dec 2012 quarter. The 330% miss in the said quarter is now a thing of the past. JinkoSolar has delivered positive earnings surprises in the last three quarters with an emphatic average beat of 418.3%. Specifically, in its last reported quarter, the company exceeded the Zacks Consensus Estimate by more than 280.0%.

This stock trades at a descent 9.37x forward earnings. It has a price-to-book (P/B) ratio of 2.22, which is below the industry average of 3.2. Along with that its price-to-sales (P/S) multiple is 0.8 (the industry average is 1.7). JinkoSolar's share price gained 350% last year as the market regained confidence in the stock backed by its operational excellence. The company is scheduled to reports its fourth quarter 2013 earnings on Mar 3, 2014.

Trina Solar Ltd. ( TSL )

Trina Solar - another Chinese manufacturer of photovoltaic modules - is a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) stock.

After eight straight quarters in the red, Trina Solar returned to profit in the third quarter of 2013, a turnaround driven by impressive trade in panel shipments. Panel shipments doubled year over year to reach 774.6 megawatt (MW), propelling revenues higher by 84% to $548.4 million.

Rising Asian demand, China in particular, has helped the industry's main players like Trina Solar to maintain steady margins. China reportedly increased the 2014 target for new solar PV capacity installations to 14 gigawatt (GW) from its previous forecast of 12 GW. If that's so, the country is expected to account for a sizeable share of Trina Solar's total shipments this year.

The company - which is scheduled to report its fourth quarter earnings on Mar 4 - has a forward P/E of 29.8x. On P/B and P/S basis, the stock trades at 1.47x and 0.76x, respectively, which are lower than the industry averages.

The stock has rallied 205.1% last year.

Bottom Line

In the wake of environmental concerns, alternate energy sources are gradually gaining prominence worldwide. The universal availability of sun rays, decreasing cost of photovoltaic units and a higher conversion rate make solar power technology one of the most popular alternate energy resources. Make hay while the sun shines and add these two solar stocks to your portfolio.

FIRST SOLAR INC (FSLR): Free Stock Analysis Report

JINKOSOLAR HLDG (JKS): Free Stock Analysis Report

TRINA SOLAR LTD (TSL): Free Stock Analysis Report

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Zacks Investment Research

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

This article appears in: Investing , Business , Stocks
More Headlines for: FSLR , JKS , TSL

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