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First Solar Profit Climbs on Higher Demand for Panels

April 28 (Bloomberg) -- First Solar Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of thin-film solar power modules, said first-quarter profit rose 4.7 percent on stronger demand and increased production. The company raised its full-year profit forecast.

Net income rose to $172.3 million, or $2 a share, from $164.6 million, or $1.99, a year earlier, Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar said in a statement today. That beat the $1.67-a-share average estimate of 18 analysts compiled by Bloomberg. Sales rose 36 percent to $568 million.

To boost sales amid declining government incentives in Europe, Chief Executive Officer Robert Gillette has been buying project developers in the U.S. The company today agreed to acquire closely held NextLight Renewable Power for $285 million in cash to gain their 570 megawatts of utility contracts.

“First Solar is the best positioned solar company to weather second-half uncertainty given this internal project visibility,” said John Hardy, an analyst at American Technology Research in Greenwich, Connecticut, who has a “buy” rating on the shares.

First Solar rose $5.57, or 4.3 percent to $133.70 at 4:32 p.m. in after-hours trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The company first sold stock at $20 a share in 2006.

Profit for the year will climb to $6.80 to $7.30 a share, up from February guidance of $6.05 to $6.80 a share, First Solar said in the statement. Analysts had expected net income of $6.18 a share, the average of 23 estimates.

Thin Films

The company’s thin-film modules use cadmium telluride to convert sunlight into electricity instead of the higher cost polysilicon used in most solar panels. That allows them to install solar plants for about $1.30 per watt, compared with an industry average of about $1.75, according to Hardy.

“First Solar’s superior cost structure will continue to differentiate it from poly-based peers,” Hardy said.

The company operates plants in Ohio, Germany and Malaysia, and plans to build a new factory in France that will help boost annual production capacity to 1,816 megawatts by 2012.

Sales this year will be in the range of $2.7 billion to $2.9 billion, as the global market for panels increases 36 percent to about 7,500 megawatts. First Solar’s operating margin will be about 23 percent to 24 percent.

(First Solar scheduled a conference call with analysts and investors at 4:30 p.m. in New York. To listen, go to the company’s Web site at http://www.firstsolar.com)

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Martin in New York at cmartin11@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at dstets@bloomberg.net.

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