From the unsubstantiated rumor department: I heard from a reputable source that First Solar (Nasdaq:FSLR) is in negotiations to buy CIGS thin-film aspirant HelioVolt.

We recently reported that HelioVolt was for sale and we offered some perspective on HelioVolt investor NEA's viewpoint from one of its board members, Scott Sandell.

Let me emphasize that First Solar would not comment on the rumors.  I did receive a rather soft "No comment" from HelioVolt when I inquired.

There are a few reasons why this would make sense:

  • If the price is right and the investors are willing to just get their investment of $150 million back, then this is hardly dilutive given First Solar's $13.32 billion market cap.
  • First Solar has long been looking for a path to higher efficiency, and HelioVolt's CIGS technology platform might be a good match -- given its monolithic-on-glass nature.
  • HelioVolt's current CEO, Jim Flanary, was the COO of First Solar a few years ago.

There are also some reasons why it doesn't make sense:

  • First Solar has had its own ongoing secret CIGS development effort in Silicon Valley and acquiring HelioVolt would seem to indicate that not a lot of commercial progress has been made there.
  • There are other CIGS firms like MiaSolé that are further along the road to commercialization than HelioVolt, albeit at presumably higher valuations.

We would assume that an acquisition of this nature would be made in First Solar shares.  And who wouldn't want more of those?

First Solar's non-executive chairman of the board, Michael Ahearn, for one. According to Axion Capital's Gordon Johnson, Ahearn sold 38 percent of his holdings in February for a total of $82.5 million. Johnson has a Sell rating on First Solar shares. I was able to locate records on Ahearn's sale of about $30 million and the Walton family's sale of about $160 million of First Solar stock in the last month. Insider trading is normal and can indicate something is afoot, or nothing at all.

Again, regarding the potential acquisition, First Solar does not comment on rumors, and I did receive a non-committal "No comment" from HelioVolt when I inquired. First Solar remains one of the few solar module firms with the market cap and balance-sheet heft to make acquisitions of this nature.

First Solar shares today fell $3.89, or 2.5 percent, to $154.91.

And, confirming one of the worst-kept secrets in the solar world, First Solar announced that it will build a new 250-megawatt solar panel factory in Mesa, Arizona that will create about 600 jobs.