Why First Solar Stock Jumped More Than 10% on Thursday

By Rich SmithMarketsFool.com

What happened

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Shares of First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) stock jumped as high as 12.7% in Thursday trading, before closing the day up 10.8%.

So what

It's been a weird week for First Solar, so far. On Tuesday afternoon, the thin film solar specialist reported Q4 2016 earnings, featuring a big sequential decline in revenues "due to the completion of multiple systems projects during the quarter, partially offset by higher module-only sales," and an even bigger loss -- $6.92 per share. Sales for the quarter were only $480 million, and were dwarfed by the size of a massive $729 million charge to earnings for "previously announced restructuring actions."

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This led to an 8.3% sell-off in First Solar shares when trading resumed Wednesday -- and to some analysts, that created an opportunity to buy back in. On Thursday, Credit Suisse downgraded First Solar stock to underperform, and Needham & Company warned investors to avoid the stock because of likely "lowered overall profits for the next 2+ years."

At the same time, though, R.W. Baird doubled down on its outperform bet on the stock, pointing out that, while First Solar's sales were down, they beat estimates. The analyst also insisted that First Solar is "gaining momentum." Meanwhile, Roth Capital actually raised its price target on First Solar stock, saying "expectations may have bottomed."

Can Wall Street interest you in a few shares of First Solar stock? Image source: Getty Images.

Now what

Whether they've "bottomed" or not, "expectations" certainly can't get much lower for First Solar. Analysts who follow the stock now project average annual earnings declines of 43% over each of the next five years, and as a result, investors who brave the storm can now buy First Solar stock for less than eight times what trailing earnings looked like before this week's reported loss.

Should you buy? That depends.

Counting this week's results, First Solar now has had negative profits for the past 12 months, and negative free cash flow, to boot. On the other hand, the company has a nice cash cushion of nearly $2 billion against long-term debt of just $160 million. If you believe the solar industry's prospects will turn back up eventually -- and according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, analysts do see profits turning positive again by 2018 -- First Solar probably has enough cash to keep it alive to see the other side of this tunnel.

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Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.