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Here is my cost model for FSLR by the way, with Q3 and Q4 being forecasts.  We will have a core cost below 40 cents in Q4 which no Chinese company will be able to match. .

FSLR_cost.thumb.jpg.a86ea189e8d60a3419cc

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Lets think about it from the perspective of value to the investor. Currently FSLR has about $5B in value, They expect gross margins at 20 to 22% range for 2015. Let's assume they reach this level of cost by Q4. Is this cost inclusive of this GM? Of course. Now Jinko will most likely beat gross margin from FSLR not having any sales of plants, with high gross margin enjoyed by FSLR. The stock is worth $700M.  The estimated $3.60 per share at today's $52 per share, equals to PE of 14.4 in case of FSLR. For Jinko this number is 6.78 per share for EPS of $3.36.

Jinko is about $0.43 per watt if fully utilized. When they upgrade to PERC in full I imagine they will drop to level of $0.40 or below. TSL did $0.42 as they have more utilization of PERC tech. Their tariff is anywhere from 20 to 30% shipping to the US, if they do well in Malaysia they can bring 500MW to 1GW rather quickly and 25% margin with energy generation sales i probably very probable across the board.. 

FSLR has done very well, and it is attractive, when the most capable of high income delivery company, Canadian is soul searching ways to continue to earn high net incomes. Canadian may not be able to comeback to that level for some time or long time. This is why Jinko has made a lot more sense as an alternative.

In summary, JKS has a lot more power to appreciate right now than FSLR, cost less than 100% per share and it is capable of earning as much if not more, if including joint venture accrual.

If FSLR can level off and comeback and continue to grow in all areas, it will hopefully become a benchmark to follow for the investors.

Last note. FSLR technology is one. The technology of silicon is many. If you combine all dollars efforts in silicon, you will probably not stop at $1B if not more globally.  The transfer of knowledge for silicon is simply easier and cheaper and ultimately more productive. If the shift to efficiency will take total hold of the industry, I doubt FSLR will be able to hold the leader role in efficiency or cost, statistical power is against it.

 

Edited by odyd
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Here is my cost model for FSLR by the way, with Q3 and Q4 being forecasts.  We will have a core cost below 40 cents in Q4 which no Chinese company will be able to match. .

FSLR_cost.thumb.jpg.a86ea189e8d60a3419cc

16.2% at .40 cost not possible by CN4? Are you joking or haven't you followed the CN4 development? Fact is that CN4 is more profitable on third party panel sales for now. Board recognizes that FSLR might catch up, but the notion that FSLR will move ahead at formula 1 speed and CN4 will stand still is something FSLR has touted for years and that you've completed bought despite never happening, yet. FSLR is a good solar complement to c-Si exposure, especially considering combo of tech and yieldco progress offered at attractive stock price level, but I would not go 100% on something fighting against 90% of industry. I'm talking about Meyer Burgers, Applied Materials etc. combined R&D, best applied and rolled out to PV plants by CN4.

Edited by explo

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I kinda sense that people here don’t realize yet how FSLR stands out from competition.

First off let’s look at blended cost and not at the in-house cost because the CN4 follow clear asset-light strategies with increasing degrees of outsourcing and the in-house cost is not reflective of the true cost position of the business.  If you look at the blended cost currently FSLR/TSL/JKS are somewhere around 42/50/46 cents.  All three churning out roughly at an average fleet efficiency of standard multicrystalline.

Fast forward to Q4 2015 and let’s assume the blended cost has come down 3 cents for each of them to 39/47/43.  The BIG change now however is that FSLR has managed to increase the average fleet efficiency to standard mono level while TSL and JKS have hardly moved and remain at standard multi level.

Now fast forward to Q4 2016 and get ready for the action.  FSLR has lowered blended cost below 35 cents and increased average fleet efficiency to above 17.5%, i.e. to PERC-mono level, roughly equivalent to 285Wp standard modules.

Let me point out again what we have here.  We have 3GW+ of capacity producing at PERC-mono efficiency and producing below 35 cents !!!

So how bout TSL and JKS?  Maybe they managed to get down to a blended cost of 40 cents by Q4 2016, however the average fleet efficiency hasn’t moved much beyond standard multi.  Let’s be realistic:  Both companies are being very timid in the roll-out of PERC technology, JKS more so than TSL.  TSL currently has 20% of their cell capacity PERC-enabled and when ramped it will be around 15% of shipments at most.  JKS is still in evaluation mode.  So realistically in Q4 2016 both companies will still have standard multi as their bread and butter business.

There is another BIG advantage that sets FSLR apart:  FSLR’s efficiency improvement automatically results in lower cost per watt while the roll-out of PERC on the crystalline side increases cost per watt in the first step.  Check out what TSL's COO told us during the last CC:

Zhiguo Zhu – COO: “Okay. Firstly, certainly, the product technology which is very high efficiency and the cost will be a bit higher than normal [cell]”

How much will it cost Trina to produce a 17.5% module in Q4 2016?  I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 45-50 cents.  Mono is expensive and PERC-mono is even more so.  Compare that to costs below 35 cents for FSLR.

I hope I convinced you that FSLR is in a league of its own.

As to valuations I think that a naked PE multiple comparison doesn’t take into account that FSLR is sitting on a mountain of cash whereas JKS is sitting on a mountain of debt.  If you adjust the market cap for net cash you will see that the difference in the PE multiple is not that dramatic.  But granted, JKS will still appear cheaper than FSLR.  I personally have no problem with that.  I prefer a slightly more expensive technology powerhouse to a cheaper plain-vanilla player.

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Broomhilda, if FSLR is in a league of its own why does it have lower GM on panel sales? You said the same thing 2 years ago, fast-forward to now and CN4 dominate third party panel sales growth and margin. That's fact. What the future may bring remains to be seen.

 

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So what GM are you assuming for panel sales?  Are you taking the 8.3% from Q1 as a proxy?  Let's dive into it but first let's make sure we are talking about the same numbers.

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I think strategies of FSLR and CN4 are not comparable. Clearly CN4 want to go for volume as a mean to cut costs and there was no need to focus on efficiency as much and leave the costly effort to equipment suppliers, seen by relatively low R&D spending in mid single digit millions per quarter and timid capex. Whereas FSLR intends to bring efficiency up and goes less for volumes, understandable as FSLR consumes approx. 1/3 of available Tellurium supply at 2.7 GW capacity that could limit scaleability. They bought this efficiency leap with a run rate of 100 mln R&D per year and high sustaining capex. As FSLR has now caught up or even overtook on efficiency it will be interesting to see if CN4 and other Si manufacturers increase efficiency efforts as well.    

What came to mind when seeing 6 USD EPS projections for 2016 that equals about 600 mln net income. Will FSLR never pay some taxes? Of 94 mln of Q2 net income 33 mln of it was due to a tax credit. Adjusting for this would have been maybe around 45 mln net income for the quarter or say 180 mln annualized (about 1.80 USD EPS), yearly guidance also assumes only 2-5% tax rate. Considering that FSLR operates at full capacity already making around 3.5 bln revenue a year, there would be a large boost to GM and operating leverage needed. Is this realistic?

Edited by Makan

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The second Q was 18.5%,  FSLR receives massive tax break, the cost of $0.40 or below is not an absolute cost meaning directly translating into a bottom line of the gross margin. Blend cost for Chinese includes and it is most expensive due to punitive costs of buying cells from elsewhere and building modules elsewhere than China.

FSLR had crisis moment and needed to make difference in its efficiency or would it be thrown out of the race long time ago, at the price tag of $140M a year versus $16M for average Chinese they just catching, and they will be left behind if and when efficiency will be the only separator. Power of one versus many. simple.

FSLR has an opportunity to remain best thin-film company in the world, but the solar world will belong to Chinese and FSLR ownership will never exceed current size as growth will be or is a lot more rapid for Chinese.

They happen to be the best to take advantage to move to earnings and they have done the best to be stable. We all took notice of it, took our positions, benefited in own ways and find another objective as need be.

Edited by odyd

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I kinda sense that people here don’t realize yet how FSLR stands out from competition.

I hope I convinced you that FSLR is in a league of its own.

I freely admit that I do not see what you see in FSLR. 

For one thing you are assuming a lot of things happen perfectly for FSLR, and that they do things they have said they will not do. (i.e. they said on call 2016 is all out production, no upgrades, but you assume fleet efficiency will jump again in 2016.)  Also they have practically sold out all capacity through 2016, so what is the threat to CN4?  

FSLR was originally cost leader (by a large %) 4-5 years ago...and it lost that.  Now you are projecting that it will get it back and keep it.  Time will tell...

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One thing that hasn't been touched upon in all this back and forth is the ability of FSLR to upgrade its whole capacity to higher efficiency in rapid fashion.  Much faster than Poly-Si players.  This do to thin film tech process vs silicon production process.    I think this is a key point as they are moving from 14%+ to 18%+ efficiency in couple years time.

Edited by Pop2mollys

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One thing that hasn't been touched upon in all this back and forth is the ability of FSLR to upgrade its whole capacity to higher efficiency in rapid fashion.  Much faster than Poly-Si players.  This do to thin film tech process vs silicon production process.    I think this is a key point as they are moving from 14%+ to 18%+ efficiency in couple years time.

I'm on the same page with you here Pops.  Just look at it this way:  From Q4 2014 to Q4 2015 (i.e. one year) average efficiency is going from 14.4% to 16.2%.  Expressed in terms of standard module wattage this is equivalent to going from a 235W module to a 265W module, i.e. an increase of 30W.  If you look back in time you'll see that the CN4 have been increasing multi efficiency by roughly 5W a year.  Means that FSLR is driving up efficiency roughly six times faster than the CN4 have historically.  This is indeed formula 1 vs carriage.  Going from 235W to 265W in one year fits also quite well with the other term you used:  leapfrogging.  Feels like FSLR is skipping multi efficiency altogether and jumping from thin-film to mono efficiency in one leap.

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I wanted to address the issue of the "low" GM for modules.  Seems like some folks here haven't realized yet that FSLR books some cost blocks differently from the CN4 and that just comparing GMs is not apples to apples.

Specifically, FSLR books warranty and freight cost under GOGS, while the CN4 book them under SG&A.  Naturally therefore that FSLR's module GM appears on the low side.  Have a look at p.11 to see that FSLR includes roughly 4 cts in freight&warranty in their COGS:

http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/FSLR/519073791x0x652323/53F7A04F-FCF5-4729-8BB2-0ABF6033C046/4. FSAnalystDay_Manufacturing.pdf

Now for simplicity assume that in Q1 2015 they sold modules at an ASP of 55 cents with 8% GM officially.  Means cost per watt of 50.6 cts and GM of 4.4 cts.  If you shift the 4 cts of warranty & freight from COGS to SG&A your adjusted cost per watt drops to 46.6 cts and GM increases to 8.4 cts which is around 15%.  This is comparable to CSIQ.  Going into Q2 the efficiency increase should translate into a significant margin expansion (my guess is >20% on an adjusted basis).

Hope that clarifies once and for all why FSLR reported low margins in Q1.

 

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So what GM are you assuming for panel sales?  Are you taking the 8.3% from Q1 as a proxy?  Let's dive into it but first let's make sure we are talking about the same numbers.

Yes Q1 is a good reference as there were less project sales. Other quarters revenue is dominated higher margin project sales.

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One thing, which never leaves the topic is the acceptance to pay top dollar for shares of the US solar companies. FSLR is one of the most successful solar companies in the world. not only becasue it made a lot of money, but becasue it has been embraced at high PE for most of its public life and only lost it value in last two years. It was the only choice of solar plant builders in early years of 50% GM. Very impressive then and still impressive today.  We may never be able to get PE in Chinese company and this disparity while it was for few short months eliminated it is showing a growing gap once more.

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...We may never be able to get PE in Chinese company and this disparity while it was for few short months eliminated it is showing a growing gap once more.

Well I think that part of the credit for this disparity goes to LDK, STP, SOL and YGE a.o.  The level of recklessness and disrespect for western shareholders is at par with scams like Enron.  

Also bear in mind that between two companies of equal earnings per share the company with tons of cash deserves a higher valuation than the company with tons of debt.

 

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Oh and certainly Hanergy deserves a mention as well.  The question "which will be the next Chinese PV scam" is a completely legitimate one and pulls down the whole sector, even companies with top notch management and ethics like e.g. JASO and TSL.

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What came to mind when seeing 6 USD EPS projections for 2016 that equals about 600 mln net income. Will FSLR never pay some taxes? Of 94 mln of Q2 net income 33 mln of it was due to a tax credit. Adjusting for this would have been maybe around 45 mln net income for the quarter or say 180 mln annualized (about 1.80 USD EPS), yearly guidance also assumes only 2-5% tax rate. Considering that FSLR operates at full capacity already making around 3.5 bln revenue a year, there would be a large boost to GM and operating leverage needed. Is this realistic?

They will sell lots of plants in US next year due before ITC goes down..that will keep their tax-rate low and boost earnings for next year...

FSLR has unique technology, which has pro and cons. If they really get their module efficiency to 18-19% range in couple of years, they will be much cheaper than c-Si companies..and since most of this technology is developed by them, this gives them sustainable competitive edge for making better margins than other companies and that will deserve high price in market....technology was more questionable couple of years ago but they have proved otherway and market will give them credit for that.

On the other side, like Makan said, c-Si companies benefit from pooling their R&D costs as most of the improvement is by equipment suppliers and hence shared across the industry! so question is can FSLR keep-up with that? I certainly don't have answer to that :)

One thing that I will like FSLR to do is utilize their cash more effectively...their strategy of moving into projects way before anyone else was right, but since then they have kind of lacked any strategic move in the industry probably for good reasons as they had to focus on their technology over last years...but with so much cash, they should had got into distributed generation early on in US (like in 2012 or so) and leveraged their balance sheet, but they are way too conservative...having a healthy balance sheet in a cyclical industry is good thing but having too much cash on BS also reduces ROE and hence the attractiveness of the company IMO

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dk1, I agree on tapping BS. This potential is one of the main reasons why I like them. For now I'll be happy if they launch multiple yieldcos in same JV manner as CAFD. I think partnering with Recurrent at CSIQ would make sense. Going forward I agree that they should use TetraSun or more efficient new generation CdTe panels to penetrate residential segment. The BS gives them freedom to choose strategy. So far their actions have accumulated retained earnings in an unmatched manner for the industry.

 

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...On the other side, like Makan said, c-Si companies benefit from pooling their R&D costs as most of the improvement is by equipment suppliers and hence shared across the industry! so question is can FSLR keep-up with that? I certainly don't have answer to that :)...

One aspect that needs to be considered is that there are physical efficiency limits for given technologies.  For example for single-layer CdTe the maximum theoretical efficiency is slightly above 30%, whereas for single-layer Silicon it is a few % points below that:

http://www.firstsolar.com/en/technologies-and-capabilities/pv-modules/first-solar-series-3-black-module/cdte-technology

This means that CdTe is intrinsically more efficient than Si and has more room to grow than Si.

Also as technology progresses and companies climb the efficiency hill they are confronted with a law of diminishing returns.  The closer they get to the theoretical limits they will find that it is increasingly harder and more expensive to increase efficiency.  I think it is fair to say that the silicon companies and FSLR are at different phases of this learning process.  Silicon has climbed the efficiency hill for decades and now sees further progress leveling off and the law of diminishing returns hitting.  Sure there are options to increase efficiency further, but in most cases there is no bang for the buck.  Remember the n-type mono hype a few years back?  Guess what:  shelved because not cost-effective.  Nowadays PERC is making some inroads, but companies are still very careful with its implementation.  Even PERC increases the cost per watt slightly and you gotta be sure that you can get your money back through higher pricing.

FSLR on the other hand is at an earlier stage of the hiking trip where advancements are rampant and linear and the law of diminishing returns hasn't bitten them yet.  Efficiency improvements translate to cost reductions instead of cost increases at this point.

My 2 cents.  Have a look at NREL's efficiency chart for further illustration of the above:

http://www.nrel.gov/ncpv/images/efficiency_chart.jpg

 

 

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broomhilda,

how would you compare fslr's conversion efficiencies with Sunpower's?  interested in your thoughts, please. 

One aspect that needs to be considered is that there are physical efficiency limits for given technologies.  For example for single-layer CdTe the maximum theoretical efficiency is slightly above 30%, whereas for single-layer Silicon it is a few % points below that:

http://www.firstsolar.com/en/technologies-and-capabilities/pv-modules/first-solar-series-3-black-module/cdte-technology

This means that CdTe is intrinsically more efficient than Si and has more room to grow than Si.

Also as technology progresses and companies climb the efficiency hill they are confronted with a law of diminishing returns.  The closer they get to the theoretical limits they will find that it is increasingly harder and more expensive to increase efficiency.  I think it is fair to say that the silicon companies and FSLR are at different phases of this learning process.  Silicon has climbed the efficiency hill for decades and now sees further progress leveling off and the law of diminishing returns hitting.  Sure there are options to increase efficiency further, but in most cases there is no bang for the buck.  Remember the n-type mono hype a few years back?  Guess what:  shelved because not cost-effective.  Nowadays PERC is making some inroads, but companies are still very careful with its implementation.  Even PERC increases the cost per watt slightly and you gotta be sure that you can get your money back through higher pricing.

FSLR on the other hand is at an earlier stage of the hiking trip where advancements are rampant and linear and the law of diminishing returns hasn't bitten them yet.  Efficiency improvements translate to cost reductions instead of cost increases at this point.

My 2 cents.  Have a look at NREL's efficiency chart for further illustration of the above:

http://www.nrel.gov/ncpv/images/efficiency_chart.jpg

 

 

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broomhilda,

how would you compare fslr's conversion efficiencies with Sunpower's?  interested in your thoughts, please. 

 

Well Sunpower produces roughly at an average eff. of 20.2% vs. the 15.4% of FSLR, i.e. roughly 31% more efficient.  However due to the complexity of its IBC cell architecture they have to pay dearly for production, something in the order of 70 cts/W.  This is more than 20 cts above FSLR or the CN cost leaders.  They can live with this in some residential markets where BOS savings are above 20 cents but will have a much harder time in the commercial and utility segments where BOS levels are lower altogether.

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Given that JASO came out with numbers yesterday I took the opportunity to look at their efficiency progress in order to compare it to FSLR.  Now you guys all know that I’ve been a true fan of JASO for years and always thought it was THE top address in Chinatown together with TSL.

I was particularly hyped up with their plans for Percium and Riecium.  Unfortunately I have to say now that the company clearly overpromised on the efficiency front.  It seems to me that they are struggling to increase efficiency.

Specifically they mentioned mid last year when they launched Percium that they expected the average wattage to go up to 290W by year end 2014.  Since then I’ve spent hours scouring online solar shops across the globe to see what’s available out there.  I’ve found dozens of shops offering the 285W module but not a single one to date offering the 290W one.  So what’s up with that my beloved JASO?  Unfortunately during yesterday’s CC not a single analyst asked about the Percium issues.  Have you guys discussed this yet on this board?  They also haven’t ramped Percium capacity according to plans, but that is a separate topic.

Also have a look at how the average fleet efficiencies of JASO have evolved from E2013 to E2014 based on their 20-Fs:

“As of December 31, 2013, the average conversion efficiency rates of our mainstream monocrystalline and multicrystalline solar cells were 19.4% and 17.9%, respectively.”

“As of December 31, 2014, the average conversion efficiency rates of our mainstream monocrystalline and multicrystalline solar cells were 19.5% and 18.0%, respectively.”

Are you kidding me JASO?  Only 0.1% absolute efficiency increase in one year?  Now compare that to FSLR who is increasing fleet module efficiency by 1.8% absolute in one year (going from 14.4% in Q4 2014 to 16.2% in Q4 2015)!

I’m eager to hear some opinions on what’s in store for efficiency increase for the CN4 over the next year or two.  I know all the press releases about lab records.  But does anybody truly think they will be able to speed up efficiency gains at fleet level beyond say 0.3% a year?  I more than doubt this based on the little momentum I’m seeing currently at each of the CN4.

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I would suggest checking out Cypress3. It's the cheap cells and gaining efficiency. PERCIUM and RIECIUM are still only a few lines serving high end segments.

 

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Not much efficiency improvement in sight though with Cypress3, only 0.1% over Cypress2.  Looks like efficiency is stalling.

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Not much efficiency improvement in sight though with Cypress3, only 0.1% over Cypress2.  Looks like efficiency is stalling.

Yes it always is. And FSLR is always a hockey stick. I hope to get a peak at that stick now.

 

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Broomhilda, Q1 did not have plants sales, Q2 did have tax credit and plant sales, everything indicates that their efficiency costs are not translating directly to the bottom line. In your view of SunPower, you properly described high cost for efficiency bleeding out gross margins and putting SPWR module pricing out of range for the most of the projects in the world, unless proprietary to SPWR and/or using some form of tax break in the US.  This is why SPWR as developer is not as attractive, and as a module seller not so effective earner.

FSLR is a very effective plant builder, but not so third party seller, as once more Q1 showed. No amount of rhetoric can change the fact that the company has no ability to capitalize on this condition for most of its existence. Shipping costs are not included in COGS, are an indicator, but we talking about 100% lower GM versus someone like JKS. on no plant selling platform.

To conclude FSLR strength does come from low cost modules, while they cost a lot less as in comparison to SPWR, but the GM return is not there for them when compare to Chinese. Their power comes from EPC, real estate deals, state tax credits, lease loopholes, construction savings, logistics etc. In sum of things they are the most efficient builder, not the module maker.

The true test for the company will be its 2017 year, and this is why I think the time to make money on FSLR is lock the position around now and hold for 2016. The most impressive story about FSLR to me is that builder leadership and the company did great putting itself on the map on efficiency and returning to the fold of actionable stocks.

Edited by odyd

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...FSLR is a very effective plant builder, but not so third party seller, as once more Q1 showed. No amount of rhetoric can change the fact that the company has no ability to capitalize on this condition for most of its existence. Shipping costs are not included in COGS, are an indicator, but we talking about 100% lower GM versus someone like JKS. on no plant selling platform...

My hands are tied when you are not willing to accept the facts that I present to you.  I told you that FSLR books shipping costs and warranty expenses under COGS whereas the CN4 do so under SG&A, and that this distorts the GM comparison significantly to the disadvantage of FSLR.  Obviously you didn't believe me, so here is the proof from the latest annual reports:

FSLR:  "In addition, we record shipping, warranty, and the majority of our obligation for solar module collection and recycling costs within cost of sales."

JKS:  "Our selling and marketing expenses consist primarily of shipping and handling expenses, warranty cost, exhibition costs, salaries, bonuses and other benefits for our sales personnel as well as sales-related travel and entertainment expenses"

And just to be disambiguous:  When FSLR talks about "cost of sales" they talk about COGS.

In addition to the annual reports FSLR has stated this difference in booking several times, e.g. in the presentation for the 2012 guidance.  Check out the footnote here:

"Normalizing adjustment accounts for certain costs that most Tier 1 C-Si do not include in COGS but FSLR does, including freight, warranty, etc."

FSLR_pres1.thumb.jpg.cf810b479cf83fde4b7

I also showed to you with a link to a presentation (see below) that shipping and warranty amount to roughly 4 cents per Watt.

FSLR_pres2.thumb.jpg.f2203c66665e7910b24

And I showed you how the GM changes when you take out shipping and warranty out of COGS.  It roughly doubles.

This isn't about rhetoric, it's about facts out of the annual report and FSLR's analyst day. If you are not willing to accept the facts at hand there is nothing I can do for you.  FSLR has caught up with multicrystalline efficiency and beaten multicrystalline in cost, those are simple facts that cannot be blurred by any amount of rhetoric.

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How did I not believe if I describe it in my post. What do you think they are? Sent from my HTC One_M8 using Tapatalk

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Anyhows... I've gotten a request to just shut the fugg up and that's what I'm going to do.

Despite there still being a great deal of hate and denial towards FSLR I am satisfied with the progress you guys made since last year.  Last year I was the sole (!) owner of this stock and had to endure all sorts of compliments.  People told me FSLR would never ever win a project in the desert, that it was a dinasaur, that it was struggling in a race it had already lost, and that it was imploding before our own eyes.  Now the same people are proud owners of the stock.  yeaaay!

Let's touch base in one year's time or so to see what's happened in terms of efficiency and cost.  Till then I wish you some good gains with FSLR!

Regards,

Broom

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