First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) set records for net sales in Q4 2012 and for the year -- driven by massive utility-scale solar power plant development.

"The company’s stock closed 4.2 percent lower during normal hours, but fell as much as 10 percent after hours,” according to Motley Fool analyst John Divine.

First Solar projected Q1 2013 net sales at $650 million to $750 million -- below the $800 million in revenues expected by a wide array of analysts.

First Solar is the developer of the three biggest U.S. solar power plants: Topaz Solar Farm (688 megawatts), Agua Caliente Solar (333 megawatts), and Desert Sunlight PG&E (345 megawatts). The firm is also developing two other projects among the top ten (Desert Sunlight SCE, 287 megawatts, and Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One, 230 megawatts).

First Solar’s net sales for Q4 2012 were $1.1 billion, $236 million higher than Q3 2012 and $415 million over Q4 2011. For all of 2012, sales were $3.4 billion, 22 percent over 2011.

Other numbers highlighted in First Solar’s financials included:

  • GAAP earnings per fully diluted share of $1.74 for the fourth quarter and loss of $1.11 for 2012 (versus $1.00 in Q3 2012 and (-)$4.78 in Q4 2011)
  • Non-GAAP earnings per fully diluted share of $2.04 for the fourth quarter and $4.90 for 2012
  • Cash and marketable securities of $1 billion (versus $717 million at the end of Q3 2012) 

Guidance in the report for Q1 2013 also included:

  • $0.70 to $0.90 per fully diluted share
  • Gross margin of 25 to 27 percent
  • Opex of $90 million to $100 million
  • Operating income of $70 million to $100 million
  • Tax rate between 11 and 13 percent
  • EPS of $0.70 to $0.90 per fully diluted share

Important milestones highlighted in First Solar’s report included:

  • Acquired Solar Chile and established subsidiaries in India, the Middle East, South Africa and Thailand;
  • Achieved a world-record 18.7 percent CdTe cell efficiency;
  • Improved its average module efficiency to 12.9 percent in Q4 2012 from 12.2 percent in Q4 2011;
  • Cut its best average module manufacturing line cost to $0.64 per watt (excluding underutilization) from $0.69 in Q4 2011;
  • Put over 250 megawatts (AC) on the grid at Agua Caliente, making it the world's largest operational solar power plant; and
  • Reached over 7 gigawatts (DC) cumulative production.