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Why First Solar Shares Cannot Find a Bottom


At the end of 2011, shares of First Solar (FSLR) hit an all-time low, and shorts began to get a little nervous.

A stock that had been above $160 in 2011 had suddenly fallen so far so fast it was logical to believe that a much larger company would acquire it and pay some level of premium that could burn shorts.

Now it looks like that risk has been taken off the table, as First Solar has hit a succession of all-time lows.

In fact, the removal of the takeout premium risk would help explain why First Solar can't find a bottom in recent trading, and that would relate directly to the biggest First Solar risk of all: the revelation from the company in its recent earnings that its thin film panels are experiencing problems operating in high heat.

Analysts remains typically divided on the First Solar story, but as a trading instrument, it seems that the shorts are a little less fearful today than they were just a few months ago about riding First Solar all the way down to single-digits, possibly $0.

In recent analysis of the First Solar earnings sell-off, there were plenty of reasons to explain the negative sentiment. The company provided an even worse outlook for 2012 than it had provided just two months previous -- leaving the room open for a miss of earnings guidance that had already been slashed at the end of 2011. First Solar added to warranty charges that the company had said would not linger into 2012, and that left several analysts saying it was difficult to put much stock in management ability to assess the ongoing warranty liability.

The biggest risk of all, though -- that its technology might not even work in the intense heat conditions upon which its future strategy is focused -- seemed like a wild card issue that didn't need to be assessed to be down on the company's prospects.

Upon further analysis, it might be the one that is allowing shorts to get one last great trade on this stock, when they previously thought the last great First Solar trade would expire at the $26 mark. At the same time, long investors could be as big if not an ever bigger part of the continued slide, "puking" First Solar stocks because the risk of technology failure is too significant to hold onto shares.

First Solar shares closed at $25.80 on Wednesday after a near 7% drop, bringing their five-day decline to 27%.

All of First Solar's sector peers have been declining in recent trading, but there's a key difference: First Solar is now below its low point of the year (and all-time low), while most of its solar peers, even after steady decline in recent weeks, are still positive in 2012 after a huge rally to start the year.

Solar trading history dictates that when consensus swings all one way, it's just as likely for stocks to swing in the other direction. That's what has happened this year: The solar sector opened at a low and rallied sharply but then came right back down, with many solar stocks still likely to retest 2011 lows.

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