What happened

Shares of solar energy company First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) rose almost 20% early today, after it reported quarterly earnings late yesterday. Shares retreated some, but still closed up 13% for the day. 

The maker of solar panels reported sales that surged compared to both the year-ago period and sequentially from its second quarter. 

So what

Sales of $928 million soared 70% versus the 2019 third quarter and were 44% above second-quarter revenue of $642 million. The growth represents a recovery from disruptions related to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as growth in international projects. 

solar panel on manufacturing line

Image source: Getty Images.

A busy third quarter kept all First Solar factories running at over 100% of specified capacity on average, the company reported. The strong quarter also leaves the company with a net cash position of $1.4 billion. 

Now what 

International projects kept those factories running at almost 120% capacity utilization in September and October. The company doesn't expect the fourth quarter to be quite as busy. It is projecting sales of between $540 million and $790 million in the current quarter. 

High production volume in the third quarter also led to gross profit margins well above recent levels. Gross margin of 31.6% for the third quarter was 600 basis points higher than the year-ago period, and well above the expected 2020 full-year level of 25%. 

The company also continues to grow its backlog, with 1.6 gigawatts (GW) of net added bookings since the second-quarter earnings release, leading to year-to-date net bookings of 4.1 GW. The company also has 6.7 GW of production planned for 2021 delivery. Investors cheered the results, adding to shares that have more than doubled in the past six months. 

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