First Solar, the Valley-based producer of thin-film solar modules, reported stronger-than-expected revenue and earnings gains in the fourth quarter Wednesday, sending the company’s stock soaring.
The firm said earnings in the quarter ended Dec. 29 jumped to $62.9 million, or 77 cents a share, up from $8 million, or 12 cents a share, in the same period the previous year.
Revenue in the fourth quarter was $200.8 million, up from $52.7 million in the same quarter the previous year.
In trading Wednesday on the Nasdaq, First Solar shares rose $52.90, or 30 percent, to close at $228.46.The shares had traded above $280 a share in December but tumbled in the sharp stock market fall early this year.
The company said the earnings and revenue gains reflected a ramp-up in First Solar's module production capacity in the past year.
First Solar makes photovoltaic modules that turn sunlight into electric current, using cadmium telluride instead of silicon, the more common material found in photovoltaic panels.
The company operates manufacturing plants in Ohio and Germany and is building four plants in Malaysia to meet soaring demand for its products, being driven by state and national governments promoting solar energy as a clean alternative to fossil fuels for generating electricity.
Most of First Solar's sales are in Germany and other European countries offering subsidies for solar energy.But Chief Executive Michael Ahearn said the company also sees potential for sales to utilities in the United States under state mandates to obtain and sell more of their electricity from renewable sources.
In a conference call with analysts Wednesday, he said the company hopes to deploy several pilot projects with U.S. utilities this year.
He also said the firm has made progress in reducing the cost of solar energy, a key stumbling block to expanding the technology.He said the company reduced its manufacturing cost by 12 percent in 2007 to $1.12 per watt.
The company has a goal of reducing that cost to 65 to 70 cents per watt, making it competitive with conventional energy sources without the need for subsidies, said Chief Financial Officer Jens Meyerhoff.
Contributing to the cost reduction were greater economies of scale in manufacturing and greater efficiency by the modules in converting sunlight to electricity, he said.
This year, the company expects to produce between 400 and 430 megawatts of solar equipment, higher than previous estimates, attributing the increase to progress at Malaysian plants running ahead of schedule.
First Solar maintains its headquarters in south Phoenix but plans to move this spring to Tempe.