Solar earnings season is finally in full swing, and the industry is going to muddle through the next few quarters and hopefully emerge better off in 2018 and beyond. In the meantime, investors should take the quarterly numbers with a grain of salt and look at how companies are positioning themselves for the future and what projects they're signing right now.
That's where I'll focus my review of the week in solar. In particular, First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) and SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) took some steps to a brighter future with their signings this week.
First Solar keeps plugging along
There were three major announcements from First Solar this week.
- French solar developer Photosol selected First Solar to supply 106.5 MW of solar modules for 14 power plants in France, ranging from 4.5 MW to 43 MW in size. A timeline wasn't given, so we don't yet know if these are Series 4 or Series 6 modules from First Solar.
- In Turkey, the company signed a sales collaboration deal with Zorlu Holdings to sell into commercial markets. This was compared to the deal the company made with Caterpillar in 2015, although it will bring the company to new markets in Eastern Europe.
- The final deal was a 63 MW module supply agreement with Genex Power Limited in Australia. The project is expected to commence construction in the first half of 2017, so this is a Series 4 product agreement that will impact that bottom line this year. This follows a 140 MW module supply contract for the Sun Metals Solar Farm announced last week, which will be Australia's largest solar project, also expected to ship this year. Australia is now a big market for First Solar.
None of these agreements individually are game-changers for First Solar, but they keep the business moving in a difficult 2017 and set the stage for 2018, when Series 6 will begin coming online.
SunPower's earnings and a new deal in France
Fourth-quarter 2016 results from SunPower did little to ease worries about the year for investors. A loss of $275.1 million included $61 million in charges related to dumping excess polysilicon and $176 million from restructuring its business and manufacturing.
Encouraging this week was an announcement that the company has signed a 64.4 MW supply agreement with French developer La Compagnie du Vent, a subsidiary of Engie. No details were given in relation to the timing of deliveries, but based on the company's development pipeline, it's likely deliveries will be in late 2017 and early 2018.
The agreement itself isn't a huge deal, but it's a step in the right direction, especially when you consider that SunPower's E-Series panels currently are not high-efficiency enough to be an industry leader (that title belongs to S-Series), and aren't low-cost enough to compete directly with commodity panels. This creates some pipeline for E-Series and leverages SunPower's manufacturing capacity in France, which may have been part of the purchase decision as well. Incrementally, these kind of deals are good news for SunPower.
Slow and steady wins the race
Both First Solar and SunPower have been hammered by investors over the past year because they don't have much visibility into their 2017 business. As the year wears on, and the companies report sales and new projects, that investor unease is falling away, which could help both stocks. Incrementally, this week was good news for the future prospects of both solar panel manufacturers.
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