February 22, 2018 / 9:14 PM / in a month

First Solar boosting output in Ohio on strong demand

(Reuters) - First Solar Inc (FSLR.O) said on Thursday it would restart some production at its Ohio factory that was stopped late last year and hire new employees due to robust demand for its solar panels both in the United States and overseas.

The U.S. solar company, which makes products both overseas and in Perrysburg, Ohio, had shut down the lines to prepare to produce a next-generation panel known as the Series 6. Demand for the company’s existing Series 4, however, has proved to be so strong that it will restart two of those production lines.

The company will hire about 130 employees to run those lines. The Ohio facility currently has about 800 workers, according to spokesman Steve Krum.

The additional production will contribute 180 megawatts of volume to the company’s 3.1 gigawatt production forecast for the year, it said.

First Solar has benefited from having a technology that is not subject to the 30 percent tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump on solar imports last month. Its panels are made from cadmium telluride, while the tariffs apply only to traditional silicon solar products.

The company has also enjoyed increased demand for its panels outside the United States.

“Whether we continue to run these lines beyond 2018 will depend on market conditions,” Chief Executive Mark Widmar told analysts on a conference call to discuss the company’s fourth-quarter results.

First Solar reported a smaller-than-expected loss in the fourth quarter.

However, the company’s 2017 net sales missed its forecast and it lowered the gross margin outlook for 2018, sending the shares down 4.3 percent to $63.41 in after-market trading.

    The company reported 2017 full-year net sales of $2.94 billion, below its forecast of $3 billion to $3.1 billion.

    First Solar said it expects 2018 gross margin to be in the range of 21.5 percent to 22.5 percent, down from its prior forecast of 22 to 23 percent. It cited changes in its revenue mix for the lowered view.

    The solar panel maker raised its 2018 earnings per share forecast to between $1.50 and $1.90 from $1.25 to $1.75.

    The company’s net loss narrowed to $432.45 million, or $4.14 per share, in the quarter ended Dec. 31, from a loss of $750.79 million, or $7.22 per share, a year earlier.

    Excluding items, the company lost 25 cents per share, beating the average analyst estimate of a loss of 31 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

    Reporting by Taenaz Shakir in Bengaluru and Nichola Groom in Los AngelesEditing by Arun Koyyur and Matthew Lewis

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