Silicon wafer maker MEMC Electronic Materials (NYSE: WFR ) has had a rough year. As of last night, shares had plunged 58% in 52 weeks as solar power seemingly fell out of fashion while semiconductor clients pondered a weak consumer market. CEO Ahmad Chatila was even singled out as one of the worst small-cap business leaders on the planet. Ouch.
But on Tuesday night, MEMC's second-quarter report swept away some of these worries.
MEMC shares exploded overnight, topping out at a 39% gain. That $2.87 mark is still a far cry from the $7.26 52-week high that was set last October, but an impressive rebound nonetheless.
Solar subsidiary SunEdison reported a drastic improvement in solar project sales. This quarter notched 169 megawatts' worth of solar systems sales, up from 49 MW last quarter and 28 MW a year ago. Solar farms across Europe hauled out their wallets in spite of what Chatila called "highly uncertain market conditions." This dose of uncertainty is big enough that MEMC decided not to offer traditional sales and earnings guidance this time around.
The semiconductor division saw higher volumes but lower average selling prices, resulting in 16% lower revenue year over year. However, there are signs that the wafer market may have bottomed out in the spring. If nothing else, MEMC is learning how to run a tighter ship -- a hard lesson imposed on the company by lower revenues.
The market is interpreting MEMC's strong results as the company's own accomplishment, not as a general improvement of the solar market. Shares of rival First Solar gained as much as 4.8% on the news and SunPower jumped 5.9% at most, but many solar stocks stayed pat. Smaller firms such as Suntech Power and JA Solar even declined.
So MEMC did not necessarily signal an end to the global drought in solar panel orders here, but a long, slow bounce might be under way. Find out how one of the top stocks in the solar market might play the rebound by downloading this premium report on sector giant First Solar. The report also includes access to timely research updates over the next year, making sure that you're not left flat-footed by the next major market swing. Get in on the information bonanza by clicking right here.