No doubt about it -- the fourth quarter of 2006 was a good one for Suntech Power
The stock has taken close to a 5% hit today, because although non-GAAP profits beat analyst projections by $0.04 a share, total revenues were slightly lower than expected. Furthermore, Suntech officials announced that they expect gross margins to recede another 1% in 2007.
On the other hand, revenues surged 145% to $217.9 million, and profits spiked to $31.4 million from $10.6 million the year before -- which equates to 20 cents per share. Furthermore, I heard a lot of positive things that the analysts who tend to take a shorter-term view will probably overlook.
First, Suntech officials announced that it intends to increase the efficiency of its existing line of solar cells to between 18% and 19% by the end of 2007, and then increase it to 20% by 2008. Such progress in converting the sun's energy into electricity will ensure that Suntech's solar modules remain competitive in the commercial marketplace, and it will keep the pressure on competitors such as Evergreen Solar
More significantly, the company indicated that it's investing $45 million to build a 40-megawatt thin-film production facility. I have long been nervous about thin film's ability to disrupt the existing silicon solar cell market, and this investment suggests that Suntech's management is not only aware of the threat but is also taking active steps to meet the challenge. (The facility is expected to be producing between 10 and 20 megawatts as early as 2008).
Finally, I continue to like the company's growing global presence. The majority of its sales still come from Europe, but it now sells about 25% of its products into the U.S. market and another 10% in China. The latter two are expected to grow at a faster rate, and this has led the company to boosts its production output target for 2007 from 250 megawatts to 280.
More efficient silicon solar cells, a new thin-film production facility, growing global demand, and increased production -- all lead me to believe that Suntech Power still has some time to bask in the sun.
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