First Solar back in black with $353 million profit

U.S. thin-film giant First Solar on Tuesday posted a net profit of $353 million last year, up from a loss of $96.3 million in 2012, while net sales slipped 1.8 percent to $3.3 billion.

The Arizona-based company saw fourth-quarter net profit plunge nearly 58 percent to $65.26 million while sales dropped 28.5 percent to $768 million in the period.

The company said its fourth-quarter result was impacted by pre-tax restructuring and asset impairment charges of $24.9 million primarily related to a write-down on the value of an idle Vietnam facility. First Solar’s cash flows from operations were $192 million in the fourth quarter and $856 million for the full-year 2013.

Looking at the first quarter of 2014, the group said it expected net sales of between $800 and $900 million.

"The fourth quarter and full-year 2013 shows our company’s continued progress in achieving the strategic objectives we outlined during our Analyst Day event in April," said First Solar CEO Jim Hughes. "For the year completed we delivered on several key objectives, including additional bookings of approximately 1.7 GW DC, significant reductions to our module manufacturing cost and a strong financial performance."

First Solar also announced a new record for CdTe cell efficiency at 20.4%.

Discussing the company’s results in a conference call on Tuesday, Hughes said the company had set aggressive targets for revenue, earnings and cash flow, but that revenue was lower than forecast primarily due to several projects that were delayed and will now be completed in 2014.

The total revenue associated with delayed projects amounted to some $400 million.

"However, we beat our earnings target, which, adjusted to the new share count, was $375 million to $425 million, compared to a full year EPS [earnings per share] result of $435 million on a non-GAAP basis," Hughes added.

First Solar’s total outstanding bookings rose to 2.7 GW DC last year and in the fourth quarter, the company had 352 MW DC of bookings, “which more than offset the shipments in that period."

New bookings included a recently signed agreement to build a 150 MW AC solar power plant in California. Hughes said the company had also signed power purchase agreements with member cities of the Southern California Public Power Authority for electricity to be generated at the 40 MW Kingbird solar power plant in Kern County, California. First Solar is developing and will construct the project.

In addition, it booked a 22 MW project to be developed, constructed, and owned by First Solar in Pecos County, Texas, in the western zone of Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

"Texas represents 10% of total U.S. energy consumption, the largest electricity market in the U.S. We will own and operate this power plant for at least an initial operating period. This reduces both the construction and performance risk of the project, and thereby increases the expected return on any sale."