First Solar Lets the Sun Shine In

After the fresh crisis that has hit the solar industry in the form of a waste spillage incident by JinkoSolar (NYSE: JKS  ) , investors may think that no solar stock is worth their money. However, one shouldn't neglect a company that has good fundamentals and is one of the biggest in its industry.

Having said that, let's take a detailed look at First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR  ) , especially considering last week it had its largest one-day drop (9.1%) in two years after the Department of Energy went back on a loan guarantee. So is there any opportunity here?    

Mixed bag
On average over the past five years, the company has managed to double its earnings annually. That's simply incredible. But over the last twelve months, revenues only jumped a meager 10%. This has been mainly due to the fall in average selling prices of solar products thanks to subsidy cuts in key markets like Germany and Italy. This particular factor put a squeeze on the company's top line. However, First Solar expects the industry to improve, and the top line will be hopefully better once that happens.

The just-concluded quarter saw the company's earnings plummeting significantly. The solar industry is mostly about producing at low costs and pumping up shipments, and First Solar is one of the most cost-efficient companies in the industry. As far as its projects are concerned, the company is present across various geographies such as Europe, North America, Australia and Asia-Pacific. Considering the policies that the governments in various countries are adopting to facilitate the growth of solar power -- especially in China and the U.S. -- First Solar could be on the path to resurgence.

Value
Let's take a look at how the company is valued as compared to its peers.

Company

Gross Margin (TTM)

Trailing P/E (TTM)

Forward P/E

First Solar 44% 11.4 5.8
SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWRA  ) 19% 38.8 6.4
Hanwha SolarOne (Nasdaq: HSOL  ) 19% 2.5 27.5
Yingli Green Energy (NYSE: YGE  ) 29% 2.1 6.5

Source: Capital IQ, a Standard & Poor's company. TTM= trailing twelve months.

As I mentioned earlier, keeping costs under control is an important factor in this industry. And First Solar tops the list above as far as the gross margin is concerned. Although the company may seem to be the most expensive from a trailing P/E standpoint, it doesn't look so bad once we consider that First Solar is one of the more established companies of the lot when compared to the last two Chinese peers. It looks like analysts have factored in the strength and reliability of the company when calculating next year's earnings.

You might be wondering why there is a gaping gap between the trailing and forward figures for SunPower and Hanwha. China-based Hanwha has suffered in the eyes of analysts after the Haining incident, while SunPower has interesting prospects ahead of it, as it is one of the most efficient solar companies.

The Foolish takeaway
Although the First Solar may have to sell its solar farm venture in California at a lower price after failing to receive the loan guarantee, two of the company's other projects are expected to receive the guarantees. I'm seconding fellow Fool Travis Hoium: First Solar is still the safest bet in solar.

To stay on top of the latest news and views about First Solar, add it to My Watchlist.

Fool contributor Harsh Chauhan does not own any of the stocks mentioned in the article. The Motley Fool owns shares of First Solar. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of First Solar. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On September 28, 2011, at 8:13 PM, likechocolate wrote:

    I'm amazed to see FSLR trading at this price - it's market manipulation at its worst. From the 90s to the 60s in 2 weeks - I don't saee any gigantic change in their business that could possibly justify that.

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