The process, manufacturing and R&D teams at First Solar are just killing it.

The top news on today's Q4 earnings call was First Solar crushing the previous conversion efficiency mark for cadmium telluride with a world record 20.4 percent, as announced by CEO Jim Hughes. That breaks the previous record of 19.6 percent, also held by First Solar, along with GE's acquired IP. Hughes said that the company would be revising its efficiency roadmaps upward at next month's analyst day.

Efficiency and cost on the production line are also moving strongly in the right direction.

The average solar panel efficiency rose to 13.2 percent in 2013 and 13.4 percent in Q4. The best production line in Q4 was putting out panels with an average of 13.9 percent. These gains in efficiency plus, other improvements, resulted in a reduction in cost per watt to 63 cents, a 16 percent reduction over the last two quarters. The firm reduced the average module manufacturing costs on its best plant from $0.64 per watt in the fourth quarter of 2012 to $0.53 per watt in the fourth quarter of 2013 (excluding underutilization and upgrades).

The company claims a book-to-bill better than 1:1, and the CEO called it a "tremendous result for the year" during the call. Management noted that project pipeline outside of the U.S. is 5.9 gigawatts (56 percent of total) and indicative of the ability of the company to expand its pipeline to sustainable markets. The company produced 444 megawatts in the quarter, and the production lines were 83 percent utilized.

First Solar had net sales of $768 million for the fourth quarter and $3.3 billion for 2013. But revenue of $768 million was down $497 million from Q3, due to project recognition timing and missed analyst estimates. Gross margin for the quarter was 24.6 percent.

First Solar also disappointed against consensus with Q1 revenue guidance of $800 million to $900 million, below a consensus of $898 million. Full-year guidance will be provided next month. 

After-hour share price of First Solar is $50.60, down 12.8 percent.

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