For major solar stock, First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR), the last few quarters haven’t exactly been bright and sunny. In fact, they’ve been a hurricane of dark, swirling clouds. Shares of FSLR stock were one of the worst performing equities in all of 2016, and this year isn’t shaping up to be any better. So far, First Solar is down by more than 15% in 2017.
And now could be the time to buy FSLR stock.
First Solar stock does have plenty of issues. This is true. But the firm’s recent transitional moves could see it shining brightly once more as utilities embrace solar energy and add more renewables to the grid. For investors, FSLR stock represents a long-term play and it could now be time to buy shares.
The Dark Clouds Over FSLR Stock
First Solar’s issues started at the beginning of 2016. After a glut of cheap solar panels had taken hold, prices for panels fell hard. In fact, prices for solar panels dropped by more than 30% over the course of the year. It became more affordable for end-users to load up these cheaper, less efficient panels than FSLR’s more advanced ones. As a result, the company saw revenue and profit decline throughout the year continuously.
Even worse was utilities — First Solar’s main clients — were able to move into the business of building out solar farms themselves rather than buy power from FSLR and it’s YieldCo 8Point3 Energy Partners LP (NASDAQ:CAFD).
Then in November, Donald Trump was elected. It’s no secret Trump is a fan of traditional energy. And as a result, many of the lucrative subsidies that renewable energy has experienced are predicted to go away. Already, solar panel demand is expected to drop this year.
A glut of panels and no demand for them isn’t exactly a great place to be. With that in mind, FSLR stock sank by about half over the last 52-weeks. First Soar stock is now sitting at lows not seen since 2013. Perhaps even worse, the decline in market cap will see FSLR stock getting kicked out of the S&P 500 index.
A Break In the Storm for First Solar
Despite the dark clouds and potential for disaster, there is still some sunshine potential for First Solar. Just like it made the transition from being a true builder of panels to one that builds out solar farms, it’s the latest move could help it keep going into the future.
The problem for FSLR and rivals like SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWR) is that they did the whole enchilada and then would sell the completed farm to a utility or CAFD as well as keep the farm and contract out the energy production. That pushes a lot of the risks — namely rising interest rates and internal rates of return problems stemming from those rates — onto First Solar’s hands. And with YieldCo and utility demand drying up, it really doesn’t have the option of selling the farms to its subsidiary.
To that end, it’s starting to be the solar farm supplier. That means moving into not only a services company — through planning, grid interconnections and permitting — but also a full components supplier. That will include selling racking systems, selling wires and its panels to a utility. It’s Panel 6 design makes it a lot easier for any developer to plug in and go with FSLR over competitors.
This will kick many of the risks and lumpiness of project development off of First Solar’s back and onto the utility firms. Over the longer-term, it allows FSLR to profit from the rise of renewable energy, while removing many of the problems that it has been facing.
Buying the FSLR Transition
While it will take some time for the full development to be completed, investors can sit comfortably in FSLR stock as it unfolds. Already, earnings have increased over the last three-quarters, but even better is that First Solar is sitting on a mountain of cash. As of the end of 2016, FSLR had nearly $1.4 billion in cash on its books. As for debt, it stood at a paltry $164 million.
In the end, about half of its current market is cash.
That’s a killer deal as the rest of its operations are still making plenty of money. First Solar still has a significant backlog of projects on its books, while current solar farms and its ownership of CAFD produce steady, long-term cash flows. These will help fund operating CAPEX costs and pay for the transition.
You’re basically able to buy one of the best solar firms for 50% off given the cash on its books.
In the end, FSLR stock was hit hard, but the future still looks rosy. This isn’t another SunEdision waiting to happen. First Solar stock should be able to navigate the waters just fine and come out ahead. Long-term investors have an amazing opportunity.
As of this writing, Aaron Levitt did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.