SunPower Silences the Critics with Recent Earnings and Guidance

While it’s still choppy seas for the solar industry, SunPower’s full-year results for 2011 beat analysts’ estimates, and its 2012 guidance led some analysts to be more bullish on its stock. Among other steps the company is taking, it’s working to reduce costs by simplifying its production process and introducing more efficient PV cells.

The company reported earnings per share of 27 cents for the year of 2011 on revenue of $2.5 billion, and 16 cents per share for the fourth quarter of 2011 on an adjusted basis.

While that’s might not appear significant, the results beat both analysts’ and the company’s estimates.

Jefferies & Company, Inc., for instance, anticipated the company would report a loss of 5 cents per share for the quarter and full-year earnings of 7 cents per share. Revenue recognition from projects was greater than expected leading to the better-than expected results, according to a research note from Jessie Pichel.

“The United States was by far our strongest market in the quarter, both in terms of revenue and megawatts, followed by Germany and Italy,” said SunPower’s Chief Financial Officer Dennis Arriola during the company’s earnings call. The earnings were driven by its utility and power plant business.

The company’s revenues from its residential and commercial segments were down $381 million in third quarter of 2011 to $372 million in the fourth quarter, largely on weaker demand from Europe.

But that segment will likely pick up quickly as the company starts realizing more revenue from its residential solar leasing product launched last year.

“From a revenue recognition standpoint, the majority of our leases will recognize revenue over the lifetime of a lease. The reception of the leasing program by our dealers and customers so far has been very strong, and we expect to further grow this product offering in 2012,” Arriola said.

The Motley Fool analyst Travis Holum observed that in trading the day after Sunpower reported results, its stock jumped up 28 percent.

He named the company as his top energy pic for 2012.

“SunPower’s results show positive signs for the company, and continued progress on cost-cutting, efficiency programs, and new products like the C7 tracker make me confident in my bullish stance on SunPower,” he wrote.

Looking ahead, the company plans to reduce module costs both by producing more efficient cells and reducing steps in the production process.

“Our accelerated cost reduction programs are on track, the most important of which is our manufacturing step reduction program, which will reduce cell production cost by 15 percent by the end of 2012,” SunPower CEO Tom Werner said in the conference call.

The majority, about 60 percent, will come from manufacturing simplification, while it’s more efficient Gen 3 cells and C7 tracker system will help reduce the cost of PV.

“We expect to exit 2012 with costs less than $1.25 per watt on an average across our entire panel portfolio,” said Werner. “That translates to approximately $0.86 per watt on an efficiency adjusted basis, with lower cost for large format panels.”

The company anticipates revenue growth over 2011 in 2012 in the range of $2.6 billion to $3.0 billion, according to Werner.

He said 2012 will be a transition where the company will gain marketshare.

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