NEW YORK (
) -- Solar earnings season isn't over yet. In fact, arguably the best of the bunch,
will report next Tuesday before the market open.
Has solar saved the best for last in earnings season? A better question might be whether saving best for last would even make any bit of difference.
Solar earnings season has once again been typified by some big beat-and-raise quarters and a generally bullish outlook from solar management teams confident about 2011. Yet in keeping with Newton's First Law of Solar Trading Motion -- for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction -- the big third-quarter numbers and even bigger plans for 2011 has all been met by a big dose of investor skepticism.
The consensus reaction to solar earnings has been a sell, and the consensus reason has been lack of faith in the outlook for 2011. This means the outlook from Trina Solar will be another key item, and probably more important than any earnings beat from Trina or shipment raise for the fourth quarter or 2011. In fact, it could be a Catch-22: it's all about the outlook for Trina, as it has been for the other solar companies, but even the most bullish outlook in solar hasn't been met by a round of applause from investors.
The solar management teams aren't showing any signs of relenting from their bullish outlook for 2011. In fact, they are redoubling efforts. The CEO of Chinese solar company
on Thursday that it aims to increase shipments by 30% in 2011. "Next year looks very encouraging... So far the market looks good," the Suntech CEO Shi Zhengrong said.
There are a few other reasons that have been behind the recent sell-off in solar, on both the quantitative and qualitative fronts.
On the quantitative front, the same euro that sank the solar sector in June, before helping the solar sector to rally in recent months, has turned into a headwind again with the Euro Zone debt fears again ascendant. The euro had recently traded above $1.42, not coincidentally just as a months-long solar rally hit a peak, yet the euro is now down to $1.32.
On the qualitative side of things, it's no surprise that investor sentiment has turned to the bearish end of the spectrum ahead of the new year. In fact, the same thing has happened every year for the past five years, and neither the bears nor the bulls have done a good job of predicting just how things will shake out in solar in any of the years.
The big bear call summing up all of the bearish qualitative sentiment of late came courtesy of Credit Suisse, which downgraded the entire solar sector.
So what does it all mean for Trina ahead of the last major solar earnings report of the third quarter?
One thing that Trina has going for it ahead of its earnings is the recent selloff. Since the middle of the month, Trina shares are down 11%.
Trina is also the consensus "investable" idea in solar -- i.e., investors can short-term trade all the other Chinese solar stocks as typical momentum plays, but Trina is a stock to hold in any market. The bull case on Trina that will be seeking support from its 2011 outlook is that even if demand doesn't keep pace with supply, Trina will stand to benefit as prices decline and its low-cost leadership becomes an even greater advantage versus peers, particularly in Europe.
Investors will also be looking for any signal of a greater average sales price decline than already expected for the year.
Mark Bachman, analyst at Auriga Securities, is expecting big things from Trina's third quarter report. "The idea of upside shouldn't come as a surprise given that Trina is the last solar company to report earnings for the quarter. However, the magnitude of the beat should be the shock," the Auriga analyst wrote in a Trina earnings preview.
The Street consensus on Trina is revenue of $417 million and earnings per share of 87 cents.
Auriga is predicting earnings of $1.01 per share on revenue of $465 million.
Collins Stewart analyst Dan Ries is also on the upside side of things for the Trina earnings, predicting earnings per share of $1.02 on revenue of $437 million.
Yet both analysts say THAT while Trina's numbers should easily surpass the conservative consensus, investors have to look to the outlook.
"Our channel check indicates that
Trina's fourth quarter will be strong, and that it is booking well for
the first quarter 2011, if not sold out.... We believe investors will focus on
Trina comments about its capacity expansion plans for
2011 and the firmness of its
first quarter 2011 order book," the Collins Stewart analyst noted in his Trina earnings preview.
Collins Stewart is estimated fourth quarter revenue of $446 million and earnings of $1.10, followed by first quarter revenue of $430 million and earnings of 95 cents, both above the consensus numbers, and predicated on what the analyst thinks are conservative average sales price figures, or $1.65/watt in the fourth quarter, and $1.60/watt in the first quarter 2011.
Auriga is forecasting revenue of $473 in the fourth quarter and earnings per share of $1.03 for Trina, also above the Street -- $50 million above in revenue and 10 cents above in EPS.
Auriga is more bullish on first-quarter pricing than Collins Stewart's admittedly conservative $1.60/watt estimate. Auriga's analyst expects pricing in the first quarter to fall to $1.66/watt, and for the full year 2011, be at $1.57/watt.
Yet the Auriga analyst, like the Collins Stewart analyst, concedes that the numbers are somewhat "academic" given the clear focus on 2011 outlook, and the lack of credibility that investors are affording to solar companies. He's betting against the recent qualitative bear argument being right in the end.
"We fully expect Trina management to repeat the view of its peers in that
first quarter ASPs should only be down slightly, while volume indications suggests that all module volume has been fully allocated for the quarter. While our competitors are vocal with arguments based on qualitative fear, we remain positive with our quantitative analysis with regard to IRRs. In our view, as long as IRRs remain attractive (above 6%), and project financing remains readily available, industry installations will continue with growth," the analyst wrote.
-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.
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