First Solar's Drop Is a Buying Opportunity

Shares of First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR  ) have traded down by more than 14% after the company announced earnings results that came in well short of expectations. The company missed on both earnings and revenues and was forced to lower guidance largely because of projects that will be held for longer than expected and increased operating expenses. Despite the miss, however, the company continues to look strong across the next several years, making the sell-off a buying opportunity for investors looking for solar exposure.

The results
First Solar reported adjusted earnings of $0.39 per share, well below the consensus estimate of $0.50 per share. The decline represents a 74.3% year-over-year slide and a fall of 43.5% on a sequential quarter basis. On the revenue side, the company reported revenue of $519.8 million against a consensus estimate of $684 million. This represents a 45.7% year-over-year decline and a slide of 31.2% on a sequential quarter basis.

Looking ahead, First Solar lowered its full-year revenue guidance from a range of $3.8 billion to $4 billion to a range of $3.6 billion to $3.8 billion. Additionally, earnings are expected to fall from an EPS range of $4 to $4.50 to a range of $3.75 to $4.25. Given the drop of nearly $100 million in gross profits, the downward reductions appear manageable.

Positives
Coupled with the earnings release, First Solar announced a transaction to acquire some key intellectual property from General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) in exchange for stock. First Solar will receive GE's portfolio of global cadmium telluride IP in exchange for 1.75 million shares of stock, which must be held for at least three years. The acquisition is expected to allow First Solar to make significant advances in photovoltaic thin-film solar technology. The deal will make GE one of First Solar's biggest shareholders and will potentially deepen the relationship that exists between the two companies.

First Solar separately announced that it will acquire a 1.5 gigawatt pipeline of projects from Element Power in Mexico and the United States. The two acquisitions should be growth drivers for First Solar and position it well for the medium and longer terms. The specifics of the deal were not disclosed.

So why buy?
If you can look beyond the ugly 22% miss in earnings, the outlook for First Solar hasn't changed significantly. While management did lower guidance, with a market capitalization around $3.5 billion, the company is still trading at less than annual revenue and less than 10 times expected earnings. In addition, the company's accounting choices, to hold projects longer, hurts immediate-term revenues but improves them over the longer haul.

So clearing away the black eye of an earnings miss, First Solar is making critical, growth-driving acquisitions, is lowering guidance only slightly for this year -- it appears to be on track looking out several years -- and is trading at attractive multiples. It's hard to believe that alternative-energy plays are going to become less important over time, meaning that sharp drops like this one are often buying opportunities. If you take a long-term view, as I believe is important with First Solar, the company is well positioned at current levels.

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