Written by Ucilia WangFirst Solar ( FSLR) on Wednesday reported a 54 percent jump in the third-quarter profit and sought to assure investors that most of its customers should do okay in 2009. The thin-film solar panel maker posted a profit of $99.3 million, or $1.20 per share, compared with $46 million, or $0.58 per share, in the same period a year ago. The Tempe, Ariz., company also posted a third-quarter revenue of $348.7 million, up 54.4 percent from $159 million in the year-ago period. The company expects to generate $2 billion to $2.1 billion in sales in 2009. First Solar is now able to make panels at $1.08 per watt. In August, Lazard Capital Markets said the company was producing at $1.09 per watt, giving First Solar the highest profit margins in the industry. While discussing its second-quarter earnings in July, First Solar said it had reached $1.18 per watt. Before First Solar executives discussed the company's 2009 outlook, investors and analysts were quite concerned about how the company will weather a global market beset by credit crunch and slumping economies. First Solar announced its earnings after the stock market closed and saw its shares fall nearly 7 percent before climbing nearly 15 percent to reach $132.70 per share in after-hours trading. First Solar CEO Mike Ahearn told analysts during a conference call that a change to a government-owned bank in Germany, KfW Bankengruppe, that is unrelated to the financial market crisis will have some impact on the company's business. Starting on Jan. 1, KfW plans to eliminate the program that has allowed borrowers to get more than ¿10 million ($13 million) per solar project. The bank will continue to provide financing for up to ¿10 million ($13 million) for each project, enough money for a 4-megawatt development Ahearn said. KfW's policy change will affect customers who are due to receive 15 percent of the panels First Solar intends to produce for the German market, Ahearn said. The company expects to ship about 70 percent of its panels to Germany in 2009. Some of the other German banks are still loaning money for solar projects. But equity investors, who put up money for a stake in a project, might not be as willing to pony up, Ahearn said. Lending in Europe outside of Germany "has stopped in the time being." The good news is the government-subsidized solar programs in key markets in Europe, such as Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, France and the Czech Republic aren't likely to be cut as a result of the financial market turmoil, said Ahearn, who added that the company spent the past three weeks talking to government officials from those countries. Those programs have played a critical role in boosting solar energy developments, which are more costly than building conventional power plants.