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Solar Stock Watch: Suntech Power, Rally Maker?

Suntech Power reports its delayed first quarter earnings -- could it be a catalyst for today's trading in solar stocks?

WUXI, China (


) --

Suntech Power


reported first-quarter results during Thursday's pre-market session that missed Street expectations on earnings per share, but outperformed on revenue estimates.

Suntech earned 11 cents a share, missing Street consensus estimates that ranged from 13 cents to 15 cents, however, a pre-reported foreign exchange loss of over $24 million was the difference between an earnings beat and an earnings miss.

Suntech revenue of $588 was above Street consensus estimates, which ranged from $560 million to $562 million.

Suntech consolidated gross margin was 19.5% in the first quarter, below 23.8% gross margin in the fourth quarter, and below Street estimates. However, Suntech had guided to lower gross margins when it pre-reported a big forex charge earlier in May. The Chinese solar module maker also projected gross margin to be in the high teens for the second quarter 2010.

Suntech expects second quarter shipments to increase by a single-digit level. Suntech upped its shipment target for the full year modestly, from 1.25 gigawatts to 1.3 GW.

Suntech accounts receivable totaled $467.7 million as of March 31, 2010, compared with $384.4 million as of December 31, 2009. The depreciation of the euro has taken a toll on accounts receivable value across the solar sector balance sheets. Suntech said the increase in accounts receivable was primarily due to higher sales in the last month of the quarter.

Some Chinese solar competitors like

Yingli Green Energy


TST Recommends


Trina Solar


have noted in recent earnings calls efforts to bring down the average number of days that a receivable stays on the books to limit exposure to euro depreciation. Suntech said that in the first quarter, average days that sales were outstanding was 72 days, compared to 60 days in the fourth quarter of 2009.

In a strategic shift, SunPower said it was transitioning a plant that was being built to produce thin film solar modules to a multicrystalline silicon solar plant.

Suntech CEO Zhengrong Shi focused on the positives in the earnings release, noting the strong demand for solar modules in 2010 and focusing on the geographic diversity of the Chinese solar company's business as the European debt situation weighs heavily on the sector. Suntech plans to triple sales to the U.S. in 2010, and noted that 21% of sales in the first quarter came from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Early trading in Suntech shares on Thursday during the pre-market didn't immediately suggest a big rally potential embedded in Suntech Power first quarter earnings. The Asian markets close higher, suggesting the markets would open stronger, and futures were trading up in the pre-market, with U.S. jobless claims from the most recent week dropping. In fact, Suntech opened lower on Thursday morning while shares of all the other Chinese solar module makers opened up.

Shares in Suntech are down 41.5% YTD and 39.9% in the last 12 months.

-- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.

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