First Solar shares soar almost 50% on outlook, efficiency records, acquisition

Solar thin film leader First Solar (s FSLR) saw its shares zoom almost 50 percent on rosy guidance for 2013, new records for efficient solar cells and news that the company acquired solar panel tech company TetraSun. Marketwatch reported that the stock rallied so much that it “triggered Nasdaq circuit breakers” (which pauses trades if a stock moves more than 10 percent in five minutes) and trading of First Solar’s stock “was halted five times.”

First Solar’s full-year earnings are projected to hit between $4 and $4.50 a share, up from analyst projections of $3.60 a share this year. Sales are expected to come in between $3.8 billion and $4 billion, while operating income is estimated to be $430 million and $460 million.

First  Solar Topaz

The news is surprising in that First Solar had a pretty difficult year in 2012, and just reported those earnings in February. For the entire 2012, First Solar took in $3.4 billion in sales, up 22 percent from 2011, but it recorded a net loss of $96.3 million, or $1.11 per share.

First Solar has been focused on raising the efficiency of its solar panels. Higher efficiency means it can sell panels for more and raise its margins, but it also means the overall cost of installing the solar system can be lower (less panels, produce more power, with less space). In February it was touting a world record 18.7 percent efficiency for cells made from the material cadmium-telluride. This morning First Solar announced more efficiency records for cells.

Efficiency is also the reason behind First Solar’s aquisition of TetraSun. TetraSun has developed a solar cell design that can hit conversion efficiencies exceeding 21 percent. Investors in TetraSun include JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation.