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Published: Wednesday, 11/29/2006

First Solar stock gets hot

It's been a public company less than two weeks, but in that short time span First Solar Inc. - whose entire source of solar panel production is its plant in Perrysburg Township - has been heating up on the Nasdaq market.

The company, which has its roots in Toledo but is located in Phoenix now, went began trading stock publicly on Nov. 17 and predicted beforehand the price would start at $17 to $19 a share. However, it opened at $21, closed its first day at $24, and has since hit $29 a share.

Yesterday it closed at $28.17, down 18 cents. Its trading volume was 587,000 shares and average volume has been 3.9 million shares in the eight days its has actively traded.

Jeffrey Bencik, an energy analyst with Jeffries & Co., said First Solar's performance, while impressive, is typical of solar energy stocks.

"Most solar names have been pretty well received," he said. "They have had a fairly quick ramp up. But eventually it starts to come down to earnings."

Another solar panel firm, SunPower Corp., priced its shares at $17 when it went public in November, 2005, he explained. The shares shot up to $27, then dropped back down. Gradually, the share came back and now trade at $38 a share.

Paul Leming, an analyst at Soleil Securities Group, said the local firm's initial success is probably "two-thirds excitement, and one-third that First Solar is a very well-positioned, very competitive firm in an industry that is maturing."

The company, he said, is a leader in thin film technology, so the belief is that it is positioned to be a winner. But that is an advantage that can be won or lost. "To a degree the name of the game in solar is: he who expands most rapidly and gets their product moved quickest is going to be the winner," Mr. Leming said.

First Solar, whose stock trades under the ticker symbol FSLR, was founded as Solar Cells in the late 1980s by the late Toledo industrialist Harold McMaster. The firm makes energy panels that have thin coatings over special glass panels which are used to generate electricity.

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