First Solar notches $59m Q1 profit

First Solar increased its first-quarter sales to $755m, a 52% rise on last year, as its enormous projects business leaves it one of the few profitable PV module manufacturers.

First Solar reported a net profit of $59m or $0.68 per share – its fourth consecutive quarter of profitability.

The company swallowed a net loss of $449.4m during the same period last year, including a $402m one-off charge related to its restructuring programme.

Despite the big year-on-year jump, sales fell steeply compared to the final quarter of last year, when a significant amount of revenue was recorded from the 550MW Topaz project the company is building for Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Solar.

First Solar's enormous downstream pipeline gives it significantly more visibility in the mid-term, but its focus on achieving a one-to-one ratio between new bookings and shipments - flagged up specifically by chief executive Jim Hughes - underscores its need to think beyond its currently planned pipeline of projects.

“We demonstrated progress on several fronts during the first quarter, including continued strengthening of our balance sheet and additions to our pipeline,” says Hughes, who took the reins last year.

Last month First Solar announced it had acquired the California-based high-efficiency crystalline silicon player TetraSun with an eye towards targeting the Japanese rooftop market.

The move will open up an entirely new segment of the market to First Solar, although sales are expected to be modest for the foreseeable future.