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Solar Winners & Losers: LDK, SunPower

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. solar module maker SunPower (SPWRA) and Chinese wafer maker LDK Solar (LDK) released earnings reports earlier this week intended to show the market that the solar companies had turned the corner. The SunPower and LDK reports, though, were lost amid the macroeconomic noise that sent the markets, and the solar sector, into a tailspin in trading through Wednesday.

Solar is coming back off its losing streak on Thursday, and LDK was the biggest gainer. In fact, even as this week's solar sell-off leaders rose in trading on Thursday led by JA Solar (JASO), it was only LDK's rise of 7% that placed its shares higher than where they were when the week began, the only major solar stock not still fighting an uphill battle after the Tuesday/Wednesday selloff. LDK experienced a big volume day on Thursday also, with more than 11 million shares traded, as compared to an average daily volume of under 2.6 million shares.

SunPower shares, while up marginally on Thursday, are still lower than where they traded before the earnings report.

So is the LDK bump on Thursday a sign that the wafer maker has finally turned the corner, and to a degree that is greater than the strides made by SunPower in its earnings? The right answer about solar stocks seeking to turn the corner turns out to be a not uncommon answer when it comes to separating the wheat from the chaff of earnings numbers. The strides made by both LDK Solar and SunPower in the earnings headlines were partially offset by long-term issues for both companies that remain unresolved.

Both solar companies delivered some earnings upside, and that was no surprise.

In the case of LDK, some analysts who called a beat ahead of the LDK earnings argued that Street consensus was clearly too low, which turned out to be the case, with LDK surging past revenue and earnings per share estimates.

SunPower raised its earnings guidance for the full year and beat the Street earnings call for the second quarter, but it was a noisy earnings report from SunPower, as usual, including revenue booked from $8 million in electricity sales in Italy at a 100% gross profit margin, which won't be reoccurring, and $36 million total in one-time gains. "Extremely complex" is the way that Collins Stewart analyst Dan Ries referred to the SunPower earnings report. Mark Bachman, analyst at Auriga Securities went further, writing in a SunPower earnings wrap that only, "through the magic of non-GAAP accounting" was SunPower able to beat expectations. SunPower shares remain down close to 50% this year, and received no significant earnings rally.

Jefferies analyst Jesse Pichel, expressed the frustration of what continues to be a battle between some on the Street and SunPower over the way it reports earnings. The Jefferies analyst wrote of SunPower latest earnings, "This was the first quarter of the company's new segment reporting which obscures financial performance of the module component business. We continue to view any impediment to measuring business performance as a negative noting quarterly profitability can vary depending on timing of project revenue recognition and margin swings can vary on energy sales of discontinued operations (project FIT revenue waiting to be sold)."

Putting aside the earnings performance and the prevailing view that solar will remain a healthy sector in the second half of 2010 -- though not necessarily into 2011 -- it's worthwhile to review where LDK and SunPower made long-term progress, and where the jury remains out on both solar stocks' corner-turning ambitions.
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