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SolarCity Delays Earnings Again

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SolarCity Corp. delayed its fourth quarter 2013 earnings release for the second time now. The company announced that it will restate its 2012 and 2013 financial results after fixing an accounting error related to the way it calculates overhead expenses. Shares of the solar photovoltaic installer slipped 2.0% yesterday.

Fourth quarter earnings were initially scheduled for release on Feb 24.  Last week, it delayed its full earnings results until Mar 3, attributing the delay to accounting related to its recent acquisitions as well as a change in overhead allocation stemming from a rise in the volume of megawatt (MW) deployed.

However, the company stumbled upon an error in the formula for allocating overhead expenses between operating lease assets and the cost of solar-energy system sales starting first quarter 2012. Overhead costs – comprising safety services, warehouse rent as well as fleet expenses – are associated with an individual solar system's expenditure. And these costs were not being allocated correctly.

The reallocation of certain overhead expenses will affect its 2013 and 2012 GAAP financial statements but will not have any impact on its future financials. Notably, SolarCity’s total overhead expenses will not change and the change of costs is not expected to affect the company's net cash flows.

That said, the fix will boost the cost of solar-system sales by $16 million to $20 million for the nine months ended Sep 30, 2013 and $20 million to $23 million for 2012. The company plans to file complete reports by Mar 18.

Hoping that SolarCity will be able to file audited restatements for 2012 and 2013 soon, let’s look at a number of positive takeaways for the company. The company successfully installed a record 103 MW of panels in the fourth quarter, up sharply from 48 MW a year ago. The customer count also expanded 13% sequentially. Notably, residential installations grew 130% year over year to 70 MW during the quarter. This brings 2013 total installations to 280 MW, above the company’s previous forecast of 278 MW. SolarCity also foresees 78 MW to 82 MW of panel installations for the first quarter of 2014 and reaffirmed its earlier projection of 475 MW to 525 MW for the year.

The company’s top line surged 87% year over year to $47.3 million during the quarter, ahead of the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $45.0 million by 5.1%. Its lease revenue during the quarter stood at $22.4 million, up 59% year over year, but at the low end of the company’s guided range of $22 million to $24 million.

Moreover, the company turned cash flow positive in the fourth quarter of 2013 and exited the year with a strong 2013 year-end cash balance of $577.1 million. SolarCity also remains on track for 2014 with a record number of new residential energy contracts signed in Jan 2014. The company also noted that costs per watt had declined 30% in 2013.

The Zacks Consensus Estimate is pegged at a loss of 56 cents per share for the fourth quarter and at a loss of $1.81 per share for 2013.

SolarCity is one of several companies under real life ‘Iron Man’ Elon Musk’s umbrella. The company currently carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). Other companies in the space worth considering include Canadian Solar Inc. (CSIQ - Free Report) , JinkoSolar Holding Co., Ltd. (JKS - Free Report) and Trina Solar Ltd. . While Canadian Solar and Jinko Solar sport a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy), Trina Solar carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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