First Solar will pay out $350 million in claims for a class action lawsuit filed in 2012, according to a Monday announcement from the Arizona-based solar panel manufacturer.
The suit alleged that First Solar executives and officers misled shareholders between April 2008 and February 2012 about the extent of financial damage related to a manufacturing hiccup.
Prior to the suit, First Solar had announced the discovery of a defect that impacted 4 percent of the panels it produced between June 2008 and June 2009. The company pledged to replace any faulty panels distributed to customers, and in subsequent quarters First Solar logged the impact of those claims on its financials, which generally hovered in the tens of millions.
But warranty-related expenses shot up to about $164 million in Q4 2011, causing an 11 percent drop in share price. The 2012 suit alleged that First Solar failed to provide a clear picture of its warranty-related costs “or recklessly disregarded them” in financial filings. Between spring 2008 and winter 2012, First Solar shares dropped nearly 90 percent. The actions that are the focus of the lawsuit came amid a period of dramatic changes in the global upstream solar industry that saw numerous companies declare bankruptcy and cease operations.
First Solar disputed the lawsuit's claims, and the case had been set to go to trial this month. Though the manufacturer undercut any court drama with its agreement to pay up, it maintained the “merits of [its] position,” and the settlement does not include any admission of liability. First Solar shares dropped nearly 3 percent Monday to around $55.80, giving it a market capitalization of around $5.9 billion.
“We believe it is prudent to end this protracted and uncertain class action litigation process, and focus on driving the business forward,” said Mark Widmar, First Solar’s CEO, in a statement on the settlement.
The company declined to comment on how the settlement might impact First Solar’s business in 2020, citing pending court approval of the settlement. Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to request for comment.
2019 was a mixed year for First Solar, the largest U.S.-based solar manufacturer. In Q1 and Q2, the company cited challenges to its bottom line including increased operating costs, lower project revenue and high engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) costs.
But in the second quarter, it achieved record module production and shipments. In Q3, the company announced it would transition to a partner EPC model and logged its first quarter of profit in 2019, while reaffirming annual revenue guidance of $3.7 billion to $3.9 billion.
Though First Solar has pushed off this legal challenge, it noted Monday that it’s still facing other pending shareholder lawsuits. One, concerning several private investment funds managed by Maverick Capital, also alleges “false and misleading statements” related to the manufacturing problem and financial filings.