First Solar's (NASDAQ:FSLR) second-quarter earnings report was widely seen as a sign the solar company's future is getting brighter by the day. And in a lot of ways, that's true.
To give a little more detail to what the quarterly report means for investors and the company's future, I dug through the most important quotes from the conference call, with transcript quotes via Seeking Alpha.
Operating conditions were superb in Q2
We've had a number of highlights since our last earnings call, including the arrival of our first Series 6 equipment at our factory in Ohio, record quarterly shipments of nearly 900 Megawatt DC and strong bookings of 1.5 Gigawatt DC. -- CEO Mark Widmar
I'll dig into some of these notes later, but this is the 10,000 foot view of First Solar's business right now. The upgrade of equipment from Series 4 to Series 6 solar modules is going according to plan, and by the end of this year there should be some operational modules coming off the line.
Bookings were also strong as customers demanded the Series 4 product still in stock. It's impressive that First Solar could book more than it produced even while planning to shut down production.
Project sales are more valuable than expected
...following the receipt of a waiver under the ROFO agreement with 8point3 for interest in the Switch Station project, we were able to leverage the continued vigorous market demand for our high-quality systems projects and selling interest in Switch Station at a significantly higher valuation versus selling to 8point3. -- CEO Mark Widmar
Project sales are really what drove First Solar's earnings beat for the quarter and increased guidance for the year. Values are higher than management expected and more than they could have sold toits subsidiary yieldco 8point3 Energy Partners (NASDAQ:CAFD) And it bodes well for the sale value of 8point3 Energy Partners if that takes place later this year.
Management went on to say that the California Flats and Cuyama projects had also been given waivers and First Solar expected to "realize considerably higher valuations" for the two projects. The sale of both projects has also been disclosed to investors in recent weeks.
Squeezing more from existing production
We are evaluating our options that would provide flexibility to extend Series 4 production beyond the current anticipated shutdown schedule, while not impacting our planned rollout of Series 6. -- CEO Mark Widmar
The strong demand for Series 4 modules that I mentioned above has management contemplating how to squeeze as much value from the product as possible. Short-term, that will keep the company profitable while upgrades are taking place. And First Solar is using an unutilized plant in Vietnam to install upgrades, keeping Malaysia factories running as long as possible.
The Series 6 upgrade will still take time
Relative to Series 6, we still are on target for about a Gigawatt of production for next year. You know, so that lines up to everything's on schedule and progressing as anticipated. -- CEO Mark Widmar
While it's important that Series 6 upgrades are going according to plan, they're not going to be instantaneous. Only about 1 GW of Series 6 production will roll off the line in 2018, increasing to 3.5 GW in 2019 and 4 GW after that. As a result, 2018 will likely be a down year as the company shuts down lines to upgrade equipment. That'll be important to keep in mind as the year winds down and guidance for 2018 comes closer.
Suniva's trade case is no worry for First Solar
If the current proposed recommendations around minimum prices in tariffs go up into the $0.40 tariff range of minimum price is close to $0.70, I think that could have an impact. Something more modest, let's call it, $0.10 to $0.12, maybe $0.15. I already said $0.03 of module price is $1 of PPA [power purchasing agreement] price. So if you add $0.10, we have $3 of PPA price. Something going from $30 to $33, I don't think will be destructive at all to the underlying demand profile for solar. It won't change the -- it won't create any type of risk to job creations and I think the industry will continue to thrive. -- CEO Mark Widmar
First Solar has been suspiciously quiet when it comes to the Section 201 trade case brought to the U.S. International Trade Commission by Suniva and SolarWorld. That's partly because First Solar has a large plant in Perrysburg, Ohio, that's being upgraded and could be expanded if imports are disrupted. And management may want to see the windfall if rules are written in a way that's advantageous to First Solar.
The comments above are a little wonky, but in short they say that the impact on the solar industry will depend on how big tariffs are. If minimum cell prices of $0.40 and minimum module prices of $0.78 are implemented as proposed, there could be a big impact. But a $0.10 to $0.15 impact per watt would only have a small impact on the prices developers are bidding to sell energy to utilities. There's no question tariffs would have an impact, but it may not be devastating if they're not extremely high. That's a little comforting for investors, and may lead First Solar to continue its expansion overseas rather than in the U.S. But the devil will be in the trade ruling due late in 2017.