The last time First Solar
All the more surprising, then, were First Solar's first-quarter numbers, which were just a picture of tranquility. First Solar certainly joins Silicon Laboratories
Revenue dipped a mere 4% sequentially, while gross and operating margins fattened. Earnings actually jumped 24% from last quarter, but that was largely attributable to a one-off tax benefit.
It all seems kind of hard to believe, at first. Though First Solar saw some better order flow in the back half of the quarter, not a heck of a lot has changed in the solar sector. Sure, project funding in Germany is looking pretty good, with money flowing to sub-megawatt rooftop systems, plus some reported signs of life in the larger project space. Beyond that, though, visibility remains very limited on the financing front.
The company also continues to consider 10% to 15% of current customer contracts to be at risk of default. That's a potential problem when you're not much of a spot market player.
Aha! This is the moment when the solar-powered light bulb lit up above my head. Much like Yingli Green Energy
As for margins, First Solar managed to drive down its manufacturing cost to $0.93/watt -- an 18% year-over-year improvement, and 5% better sequentially. Those Malaysian factories must truly be a marvel, because they continue to kick costs to the curb.
I don't think this is the first time we've seen other solar stocks take cues from a strong report by First Solar. I can't emphasize enough how misplaced many of those bets are. Once again, this low-cost leader is pulling away from the pack. There is no tide lifting those leakier boats that folks were buying yesterday.