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First Solar sidesteps solar panel glut and looks to Latin America, Mideast to sustain growth

ChinaPublished This article is more than 2 years old.

The numbers: First quarter profit for the US solar panel manufacturer and developer rose to $59.1 million from a $449.4 loss in the first quarter of 2012. Sales rose 52% to $755.2 million. Shares were up nearly 4% in after hours trading.

The takeaway: While First Solar’s Chinese competitors struggle with massive overcapacity, the company said it’s sold out of thin-film solar panels through the third quarter. That’s because First Solar today is primarily a developer of photovoltaic power plants and most of its production goes to supply its own projects. The company has a 3,100 megawatt (MW) pipeline of power plants under contract and another 5,500 MW in potential projects under development. Like other solar manufacturers, First Solar has cut production in response to the global glut of solar panels. The company produced 370 MW of solar panels in the first quarter, down 6.6% from the year ago quarter. Manufacturing is operating at 75% capacity, down 10% from the first quarter of 2012.

What’s interesting: First Solar’s fortunes increasingly depend on overseas markets. Latin America rivals North America for power plants under development while long-delayed projects in China are moving forward with ground expected to be broken on the first one in the third quarter. Chief executive Jim Hughes is also bullish on the Middle East, where the Saudi government is seeking $100 billion in investment for solar projects.

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