SunPower surges on Q1 strength

Shares of SunPower soared more than 17% in the final minutes of trading on Thursday after the module giant reported healthy signs across its units and geographies – and revenues up nearly 30% year-on-year.

In a sign of the challenges still facing even the most competitive PV manufacturers, the California-based company still swallowed a net loss of $54.7m. But that is a significant improvement both sequentially and year-on-year, and chief executive Tom Werner called it a “strong quarterly performance”.

SunPower hauled in revenues of $635.4m in the first quarter of 2013, slightly lower than last quarter, but with a significantly higher gross margin (9.3%).

SunPower, which does much of its manufacturing in the Philippines, produced 208MW of modules during the quarter – up from 153MW in the final quarter of 2012 – as it successfully chewed through its inventory.

Like US rival First Solar, SunPower’s activities in the booming domestic utility-scale sector continue to buoy its bottom line.

During the past three months it began construction at the 579MW Antelope Valley project it is building for Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Solar, and passed the 90% mark at the 250MW California Valley Solar Ranch project it is building for NRG.

Werner says the company posted “excellent results” in all segments in North America, with demand for SunPower’s residential lease business once again outstripping its financing capacity.

SunPower’s residential lease program, which competes with players like SolarCity, has now booked more than 16,000 customers totaling 130MW of capacity – including 2,100 customers in the last quarter alone.

The company says demand for its modules remains “very strong” in Japan on the back of its supply deals with domestic heavy-hitters Toshiba and Sharp, both of which buy and rebrand SunPower modules for Japanese consumption.

Japan accounted for one-quarter of SunPower’s shipments in the first quarter.

Even in Europe the company saw a “modest improvement”, with Werner confident that SunPower’s European operations will return to profitability by the end of the year. Among other successes there, SunPower and its partners had their names attached to 65MW in a recent French tender.

SunPower shares stormed up 17.6% to $15.29 after the results were published.

After bottoming out below $4.00 a share last summer, SunPower shares have risen more than 200% in the past six months, well ahead of the broader rally in the PV space.