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First Solar Shows Strong Start To 2016, Despite Sales Slump

US solar PV manufacturer First Solar reported a strong start to 2016, though net sales were down $94 million in Q4’15.

First Solar published its 2016 first quarter earnings on Wednesday, and though net income was up, net sales had dropped somewhat on the previous quarter. However, overall, and especially in comparison to a year earlier, First Solar can be happy with its current situation — a feeling mostly held by the company’s investors.

The company also announced on Wednesday, however, that the current Chief Financial Officer Mark R. Widmar has been appointed Chief Executive Officer, succeeding James A. Hughes, who is planning to step down as CEO effective June 30.

Net sales for the company were down to $848 million in the first quarter, dropping $94 million from the fourth quarter of 2015, but up significantly on the same quarter a year earlier ($469 million). First Solar attributed the drop “to the timing of systems revenue recognition across multiple projects,” however, this was partially offset by higher revenue from the company’s Desert Stateline project.

First quarter earnings per share were $1.66, compared to $1.60 in the previous quarter — again, thanks in part to the higher Desert Stateline revenue, as well as systems cost improvements, and a one-time gain on the sale of certain restricted investments.

“Our first quarter results represent a very strong start to 2016,” said Jim Hughes, CEO of First Solar. “The sale of additional economic interests in our Stateline project further strengthens our relationship with a strategic business partner, and the transaction provides greater flexibility for future dropdowns to 8point3. We continue to operate our business with a disciplined approach and are focused on achieving our 2016 objectives communicated at our recent Analyst Day.”

Little was done to modify the company’s projections for the year, with the low end of its earnings per share for 2016 raised somewhat.

The leadership transition seems to be simply part of a long-term leadership plan, rather than in the wake of any particular failing.

“Leadership succession planning has been a joint effort between Jim and the board,” said Michael J. Ahearn, First Solar’s Chairman of the Board. “As we enter a new phase of growth and development for the company, we believe that Mark’s proven leadership and expertise make this an ideal time for him to take the helm. Under Jim’s astute guidance, First Solar achieved the strongest technology position in our history, with record bookings of new business and unparalleled financial strength in the industry. We are grateful for Jim’s many contributions to First Solar, and we look forward to benefiting from his continued involvement as an advisor and director.”

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