Ahem. To recap what I said earlier this week: "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Applied Materials is starting to look downright cheap." Unfortunately, in Monday's Foolish Forecast, I ultimately concluded that: "If the stock remains as cheap as it appears to be today, or sells off and gets even cheaper, this could offer the buying opportunity you've been waiting for."

Sad to say, it looks like that buying opportunity ain't gonna happen.

Why not?
Because Applied Materials (Nasdaq: AMAT) reported its Q1 2008 numbers yesterday, and basically blew the analysts out of the water. With nearly $2.1 billion in sales, and $0.25 per share earned (non-GAAP), the company trumped Wall Street expectations on both fronts.

OK, maybe the numbers weren't great objectively. Sales were down 12% year over year, and GAAP profits per share declined 34%. But Applied hinted that it might already be pulling out of its slump. New orders dropped just 2% year over year, and were up from the fourth quarter -- foreshadowing a halt to the steep revenue declines that plagued the company last year and into this one, and suggesting an imminent return to growth.

Growth where?
In thin-film solar products, for one thing. Applied confirmed that it has begun "recognizing" (hey, nice to meetcha!) revenue from its "Applied SunFab" products. We know for certain that Applied counts LDK Solar (NYSE: LDK) and China Sunergy (Nasdaq: CSUN) on its client list for these products, and suspect that First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR), Energy Conversion Devices (Nasdaq: ENER), and/or Suntech Power (NYSE: STP) may be in there as well. The fact that two of these last three are based in the U.S., where Applied reported its second-fastest regional growth in Q1, lends further support to that theory.

Thin-film solar is the real growth story at Applied Materials: Sales within this segment, which Applied now calls "Energy and Environmental Solutions," nearly quadrupled year over year (to $122 million). Even better, new orders (i.e., future sales) more than octupled. This suggests that within a year, we could see thin film comprise 10% of the company's business.

Good news of a different sort
Now let's close this column with a few words from the Good Book:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; [mock], and [investor relations] shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that [mocketh] the cash flow statements shall be opened. -- Matthew 7:7-8, Very Revised, Non-Standard Version

In Monday's Foolish Forecast, I chided Applied for its failure to include cash flow information in its earnings releases. Looks like someone was listening. Yesterday's report included a bright, shiny, new cash flow statement showing that the firm generated $315.6 million in Q1 free cash flow. Was that 2% less than last year? Sure it was. But kudos to Applied Materials for telling us this right up front.

What did we expect out of Applied Materials last quarter, and what did we get? Find out in:

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. Suntech Power is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Why do we tell you this? Because the Fool has a disclosure policy.