Solar Losers: ReneSola, Evergreen Solar

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Chinese solar company ReneSola ( SOL) slid around 8% in premarket trading Thursday after reporting a bottom line miss in the first quarter and guiding to a weaker second quarter amid a stressed solar landscape, with revenue and gross margins predicted to decline and shipments potentially flat.

Wall Street has expected solar companies to provide mixed guidance on the second quarter as a demand lull in what had been the fastest growing market -- Italy -- and the potential for further feed-in tariff cuts in Germany, weigh on solar companies. Germany released its solar installation data for January on Thursday, with installations falling to 266 megawatts, a 77% decline from 1.2 gigawatts in December.

The first major sign of trouble came on Tuesday when ReneSola's wafer making peer from China, LDK Solar ( LDK) , pre-reported a first quarter revenue miss of as much as $100 million, even as wafer prices and polysilicon prices buffered its quarter. Struggling U.S. solar company Evergreen Solar (ESLR) also provided commentary late on Wednesday that described a solar market with too much inventory and too little demand and a second-quarter market environment that hasn't improved quickly enough.

ReneSola said in its earnings release that it "maintains a cautious outlook on market demand as a result of uncertainties in government policies related to the solar industry."

ReneSola guided to second-quarter revenue of $280 million to $300 million, below the Wall Street consensus of $340 million.

Shipments in the first quarter came in at the top end of ReneSola's guidance, at 330 megawatts. For the second quarter, ReneSola guided to shipments that could be flat to up by 20 megawatts, a range of 330MW to 350MW.

ReneSola, like LDK Solar and many other Chinese solar companies, is attempting to move down the road of vertical integration and become a more aggressive module sales company. However, module sales slipped from 126 megawatts in the fourth quarter to 87MW in the first quarter, a 31.5% decline.

Gross margin is expected to decline from 30% in the first quarter to a range of 25% to 27% in the coming quarter. Gross margin had exceeded expectations for three consecutive quarters, however, has declined for three consecutive quarters and will be down again in the coming quarter.

In the previous quarterly results, ReneSola guided to full-year 2011 shipments of 1.6 gigawatts to 1.7GW, though it didn't reaffirm this full-year guide in the results released Thursday.

ReneSola's first-quarter performance was an 8-cent miss on the bottom line, reporting earnings of 20 cents a share against the Wall Street consensus of 28 cents. ReneSola's revenue of $328 million was above the Wall Street consensus of $322 million, as strong wafer prices buoyed results.

Struggling U.S. solar company Evergreen Solar also released a weak second-quarter outlook, saying that "sluggish demand has continued into the second quarter and inventory remains in the channel."

Shipments by Evergreen Solar fell to 18MW in the first quarter from 47MW in the fourth quarter.

Evergreen Solar, which is cash-stressed and attempting to restructure itself as a standard solar wafer maker in China, said that it may need to raise more cash soon.

Michael El-Hillow, CEO of Evergreen, stated in the earnings pre-report: "Uncertainties regarding feed-in-tariffs and other subsidy programs have substantially slowed the demand for solar panels in 2011. While the first quarter has historically been slow for the industry, the sluggish demand has unexpectedly continued early into the second quarter. This longer-than-expected slowdown combined with the continued worldwide capacity expansion has contributed to a significant increase in solar panel inventory throughout the distribution channel ... the near term remains uncertain."

Evergreen Solar shares declined by 26% in early trading on Thursday.

-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.

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