First Solar issues 2010 earnings statement

Yesterday, First Solar, Inc. (Nasdaq: FSLR) filed its fourth quarter and full year 2010 earnings Form 8-K with the Securities and Exchange Commission and held a press conference detailing its earnings results. Despite fourth quarter 2010 earnings that were lower than the third quarter, the company’s overall net income and earnings per share were higher than the company had previously predicted.

The company raised its prediction for 2011, citing its continued expansion into new markets and expected increases in sales.

For the full year of 2010, the company reported net income of $664.2 million and diluted earnings per share of $7.68, and reported fourth quarter 2010 net income of $155.9 million on diluted EPS of $1.80.

While earnings were up on a yearly basis, fourth quarter 2010 earnings were below third quarter 2010 net income of $176.9 million and diluted EPS of $2.04.

The company said the lower results for the fourth quarter were due to the timing of system sales and the implementation, in December, of First Solar’s 2011 lowered pricing.

First Solar said its manufacturing cost for the fourth quarter fell to $0.75 per watt. But the lower results, the company added, were partially offset by an increase in production volume.

During the conference call, First Solar CEO Robert Gillette highlighted some of the company’s achievements in 2010, particularly in North America.

“We completed 138 megawatts in 2010,” he said. “Two are the largest ventures in their markets.” Those include the 80 megawatt Sarnia plant in Canada, which he said was the largest in the world, and the 48 megawatt plant at Copper Mountain, Nev., which is the largest solar plant in the U.S.

The company is increasing its presence in North America and elsewhere, Gillette said.

“The North American pipeline [of captive projects] is 2.4 gigawatts. We expect to execute on 400 megawatts in 2011 and have the flexibility to add more in 2011,” he said.

Worldwide, the company is working on expansions into markets including Australia, China, India and the Middle East. The diversification should help the company’s earnings remain strong even if the European market, led by Germany and Italy, weakens.

“We plan to use a 2.4 gigawatt buffer in the U.S. to serve as a buffer to instability in Europe,” Gillette said.

Looking forward to 2011, First Solar’s James Zhu, interim chief financial officer, said the company expects to see earnings and net income increases over 2010 levels.

“We expect net sales to range from $3.7 billion to 3.8 billion, in 2011,” he said. The company reported net sales of $2.6 billion in 2010. Those anticipated 2011 results should boost earnings per share to the $9.25 – $9.75 range.

To achieve those goals, the company is continuing to increase its production lines throughout the world. By the end of 2012, the company will produce 2.9 gigawatts of modules on an annual basis.

Already the company has begun construction on a new plant in Vietnam, is expanding its production facilities in Malaysia and Germany and is working on choosing a site for a new facility in the U.S., Gillette said.