The largest U.S. maker of solar panels and systems posted a surprise quarterly loss after the closing bell on Thursday and sales that fell short of analysts’ forecasts as costs related to its solar farm-building business overtook profits.
However, the company was quick to announce that it is also in the process of exploring "options" for its solar farm business, raising the prospect of a potential sale of its U.S. "project development" business.
“First Solar, at its core, is a technology and module manufacturing company,” CEO Mark Widmar said in the statement. “Given the significant evolution of developing utility-scale PV projects in the U.S., we believe now is an appropriate time to evaluate our options.”
While a longer-term potential positive for First Solar, investors didn't quite take a shine to the news, in large part because of the poor quarterly showing. First Solar said it lost $59 million, or 56 cents a share, in the fourth quarter, vs. a profit of $52 million, or 49 cents a share, in the year-ago period.
Sales rose to $1.4 billion from $691 million a year ago. Analysts polled by FactSet had expected First Solar to report a profit of $2.75 a share on sales of $1.7 billion.
For 2020, First Solar said it now expects sales of between $2.7 billion and $2.9 billion, and per-share profit of between $3.25 and $3.75, below analysts’ forecasts of $3.64 a share and sales of $3.36 billion.
Shares of the Tempe, Arizona-based company fell more than 15% in Friday morning trading.