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UPDATE 1-Yingli's loss nearly halves as panel prices rise, costs fall

* First-quarter gross margin rises to 15.7 pct from 4.1 pct year ago

* Yingli expects higher shipments in coming quarters

* Shares rise 6 pct premarket

(Adds outlook, details from the statement, share movement)

June 17 (Reuters) - China-based solar panel maker Yingli Green Energy Holding Co Ltd's quarterly net loss nearly halved as a marginal rise in panel prices and a tight lid on costs helped boost margins.

The company's shares rose about 6 percent in premarket trading on Tuesday.

Yingli said its overall gross margin was 15.7 percent in the first quarter, up from 4.1 percent a year ago.

"The increase in gross profit margin was mainly due to the change of geographic mix of (panel) sales with the portion of sales to higher price markets up as well as our continuously enhanced cost control in the first quarter," Yingli said.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Mahesh Sanganeria estimated that Yingli's panel prices had improved 2 cents per watt during the quarter ended March 31.

The rise in margins helped Yingli make up for a 33 percent fall in shipments from the fourth quarter.

The company, however, said it expected shipments in coming quarters to rise from the first quarter, helped by a substantial rise in demand from China as well as emerging markets such as South America, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Markets outside China, United States and Europe accounted for 35 percent of the company's total shipments in the quarter ended March 31, compared with 16 percent a year ago.

Rival Trina Solar Ltd also forecast higher solar panel shipments for the second quarter, helped by improving demand from China.

The positive outlook for Chinese demand comes even as investors fear that the Asian country will not be able to meet its target of installing 14.5 gigawatts of solar capacity this year due to a lack of funds to build smaller projects.

Yingli's net loss narrowed to $55 million, or 35 cents per American Depositary Share (ADS), from $98.5 million, or 63 cents per ADS, a year earlier.

Revenue was nearly unchanged at $432.2 million.

Yingli's shares were up 5.7 percent at $3.72 before the bell. The stock has declined about 40 percent in the last three months until Monday's close of $3.52 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting By Sneha Banerjee in Bangalore; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)