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Published: Thursday, 8/2/2012

First Solar enjoys surge during the last year

2nd-quarter earnings nearly double from '11


First Solar Inc. recorded earnings of $111 million for the second quarter of 2012, almost doubling its earnings from the same time a year ago.

The solar-panel manufacturer, which was started in Toledo and has its only U.S. manufacturing facility in Perrysburg, gained $1.27 per share. That is an increase of 57 cents per share from the second quarter of 2011. The company posted earnings of $61.1 million that quarter.

"We expect sustained improvements in efficiency as we continue to invest in our technology," said James Hughes, First Solar's chief executive officer, who said the company was pursuing projects around the world to help boost earnings.

The declining prices for solar panels and increased competition were reasons the company has considered a new strategy, Mr. Hughes said during a conference call to discuss the earnings. The company released its financial data after the stock market closed Wednesday.

Shares in First Solar jumped almost 19 percent to $17.58 per share in after-hours trading.

First Solar, now based in Tempe, Ariz., plans to develop projects from start to finish in areas such as Australia, the Middle East, and India and sell them to power companies.

"These projects demonstrate First Solar's ability to apply its vertically integrated capabilities," Mr. Hughes said.

The company's sales increased from $532.8 million in the second quarter of 2011 to $957.3 million this year.

Executives acknowledged that although they're hopeful solar projects around the world could be a boon for First Solar, every market will be different.

Rick Stansley, director of strategic business development at the University of Toledo, said First Solar is putting itself at the forefront of the solar industry by diversifying. Although the practice is common in business, First Solar is one of the first solar companies to branch out, he said.

"It goes to show they are on the leading edge and it's a good idea," Mr. Stansley said.

Contact Kris Turner at: kturner@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.

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