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SunPower's Strong Earnings Lift Stock, Despite Layoffs

SunPower (s SPWRA) saw its shares rally in after-hours trading Thursday after reporting better-than-expected earnings for the fourth quarter of 2008 and a so-so outlook for 2009. SunPower’s revenue in the quarter totaled $401 million, up 6 percent from the previous quarter and 79 percent higher than the same period a year ago. Most of the growth came from sales of components, which rose 122 percent from last year.

But the growth came at the expense of headcount. The San Jose Mercury News said Thursday that SunPower laid off 60 out of its 5,000 workers. Solar companies have been announcing layoffs left and right since the start of the year, including Suntech, OptiSolar, Ausra, SunEdison, Day4 Energy, GT Solar, Emcore and Advanced Energy.

SunPower has been weathering the storm better than most. The company’s operating income was equal to 13.8 percent of revenue, down from 14.2 percent in the previous quarter but above the 5 percent profit margin a year earlier. That helped non-GAAP net income to reach 70 cents a share, up from 39 cents a share a year ago. Analysts had been expecting 57 cents a share.

For 2009, SunPower said revenue would come in between $1.6 billion and $2 billion and net profit would be between $2.20 and $2.80 a share. Analysts are forecasting $1.89 billion in revenue this year and $2.66 a share in profit.

So the company’s new guidance is pretty much in line with analyst expectations, but keep in mind some of them have been lowering their estimates recently because of long-term concerns facing the solar industry.

Tom Werner, SunPower’s CEO, said the company’s vertical business was a key to its success:

“Our fourth-quarter performance reflects the continued strength of our vertically integrated business model, broad channel reach and geographic diversification…Our flexible model enables us to rapidly deploy our solutions across multiple geographies, especially in our worldwide dealer network where we continue to see strong demand both in the United States and Europe.”

SunPower’s stock, which closed down 6 percent during market hours, rose as much as 15 percent to $33 in the aftermarket on the earnings news.

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