Are SolarCity Analysts Asleep at the Wheel?

There are two main metrics investors look for in a quarterly report when comparing it to analyst estimates: revenue and EPS. If a company can beat on both of these, you will potentially see a rally in the stock price following the report such as was seen with First Solar, . If a company misses on one or both of these, you might see a dip in the stock price as was seen recently with SunPower . Look for SolarCity  to beat on both metrics in its upcoming report on Nov. 6 as analysts appear asleep at the wheel.

Investors are betting on SolarCity to act more like First Solar and less like SunPower. First Solar reported its results on Oct. 31 after hours. Following the results, First Solar rallied 18.9% to a two-year high. It blew estimates out of the water. First Solar reported sales of $1.3 billion compared to analyst estimates of $988.6 million. It also reported adjusted EPS of $2.28 compared to $0.99 in estimates. This large beat on both revenue and EPS shocked the Street and sparked the rally.

SunPower reported its results on Oct. 30 after hours. While it beat estimates on sales and earnings, it guided well below analyst estimates for 2014. SunPower estimated EPS of around $1.00 for 2014 compared to the $1.23 that analysts were expecting. Following these results, SunPower dropped as much as 12.9%.

SolarCity is forecast by analysts to report a loss of $0.44 per share on $42.52 million in revenue for the third quarter. For the fourth quarter, analysts expect negative EPS of $0.47 on sales of $40.45 million.

That's it?
One metric to watch for with SolarCity is measured in "MW deployed." Though not perfect because it depends on revenue mix of sales versus leases, over time higher MW deployed leads to higher revenue and profits. Last quarter it had 53 MW deployed. SolarCity originally guided for it to be 70 to 77 MW in the third quarter with revenue at $37 to $48 million. More recently, SolarCity raised this guidance after the quarter ended to 78 MW, above its previous high end or 47% higher than the second quarter. This implies that the high end of the original guidance revenue range should be easily beat as well, yet not a single one of the nine analysts have an estimate above the original revenue range.

For EPS, SolarCity offered guidance in its conference call. It had originally guided in the range from negative $0.30 to negative $0.60 EPS. Despite SolarCity raising guidance, no analyst has come outside that range. SolarCity should show an earnings beat as well in light of the improved sales outlook and management's history of giving conservative guidance on just about everything then beating it.

Fourth quarter even better
What's truly mind boggling are the estimates for the fourth quarter. SolarCity guided for 100 MW, or nearly double that of the second quarter. Yet analysts have estimates barely higher compared to the second quarter and actually have revenue going down compared to the third quarter. While it's true there's a seasonal aspect to solar electricity generation since less daylight hours means less energy produced, it's difficult to imagine it's enough to overcome nearly double the MW deployment. In terms of the actual deployment itself, management stated in the conference call that some down time for weather was already factored into its guidance. This means if weather is better than average, such as the low level of hurricane and tropical storms which we've seen, then SolarCity may surprise even further in the fourth quarter.

Foolish final thoughts
One way to beat the market is to do a bit of reading of earnings releases and listening to conference calls. Often it seems analysts aren't even paying attention. In the case of SolarCity, look for a "surprise" beat that shouldn't come as a surprise to you. If that proves to be correct, follow SolarCity's words going forward very carefully to try to get an edge and a jump on the future.

What about SolarCity and bank financing?

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The article Are SolarCity Analysts Asleep at the Wheel? originally appeared on

Nickey Friedman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends SolarCity. The Motley Fool owns shares of SolarCity. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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