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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew DeBord’

Why the market is freaking out about Tesla

Elon MuskTesla CEO Elon MuskReuters/Bobby Yip

Financial opinions around Tesla are once again lurching wildly.

This always seems to happen when there’s a moment to reassess the electric-car maker’s stock. On Sunday, Tesla announced that it had greatly exceeded delivery expectations for the third quarter, with 24,500 vehicles officially sold to customers.

That news didn’t send the stock on a run. After a modest 5% bump, Tesla shares slipped back to around $210.

Then they fell off a cliff on Thursday, when Goldman Sachs downgraded its Tesla rating to “neutral” and dropped its target price to $185 from $240. This follows a much more substantial downgrade by Morgan Stanley’s reliable Tesla bull, Adam Jonas, who had earlier pulled back his target price to $245 from a lofty $465.

For many analysts, Tesla has nowhere to go but down, given that the company has probably achieved as much rapid growth as was possible and now has all its value effectively “priced in.” That situation offers a $30 billion market cap and a return of over 1,000% for the earliest Tesla investors — those who got in back in 2010, when shares were $17.

But for the past year, it’s been slowly dawning on Tesla analysts that this onetime high-tech, high-growth company out of Silicon Valley isn’t the Amazon of automobiles. Rather, it’s a maturing carmaker, a new entrant in one of the most capital-intensive businesses yet devised by humans.

Burn, baby, burn

TSLA Chart 10/7/16Ouch.Google Finance

Putting aside worries about Tesla’s other business lines — the $2.6 billion SolarCity acquisition, the emerging energy-storage enterprise, the $6 billion battery factory in Nevada — all attention has now shifted to near certainty that Tesla will once again need to sell shares to raise money, several billion in all likelihood.

Market observers have griped that there’s a deep conflict of interest between banks such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs grabbing Tesla’s stock issuances at the same time they’re making calls on its share price, but at the moment, those banks look as though they’re trimming their expectations for Tesla as an investment.

Tesla isn’t going to get a free pass on its capital burn forever. At the moment, capital discipline is all the rage in the auto industry. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne has been dining out on a scathing presentation he gave last year called “Confessions of a Capital Junkie,” in which he excoriated the auto industry for its flagrant cash-burning ways.

General Motors executive leadership is also preoccupied with how it’s spending its money — and it has a lot to spend. GM President Dan Ammann told Business Insider last week the automaker is making $1 billion a month. But GM is explicitly engaged with committing only to markets where it thinks it will see a good return on investment. That drove a decision in 2015 to exit the Russian market, one once thought to have the potential for major growth.

Triple-secret double-down mode

mary barraGM CEO Mary BarraBill Pugliano/Getty

Tesla hasn’t historically been bad at capital discipline; over the course of a year, it has a fraction of what a GM or Ford or Toyota might spend in a quarter, so it has to watch every penny. But CEO Elon Musk and his team are now in triple-secret double-down mode — I know that doesn’t make any sense, but Tesla future investment requirement are almost comically ambitious — and from the perspective of leadership, it would be dumb to let the stock slip before heading back to the markets to raise money. Musk wants to produce 500,000 vehicles annually by 2018, and getting there ain’t gonna be cheap.

The bottom line is that Tesla sees its stock price as a means to an end. The company’s own investment thesis, such as it is, asks investors to take a long-term view: Tesla will be a major player in the future of transportation. Whatever happens with the stock price day-to-day is a distraction. All that matters is that Tesla shares be considered valuable when it’s time to create a new cash pile.

Tesla is right on the edge of crossing a river when it comes to how it spends money. As it gets bigger and has to manage more lines of business, capital efficiency will become vastly more important. But for now, Tesla’s capital exists to be spent, and that’s clearly freaking out the analysts who cover the company.

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It’s time for Elon Musk to think about turning the Tesla CEO job over to someone else

spacex elon musk mars colonization Musk. Mars. SpaceX/YouTube

You may have missed it, but this was the most head-warping week in Elon Musk’s life, for anyone who has been following the man’s adventures for the past decade.

Early last week, at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, Musk outlined his master plan to start colonizing Mars in less then 10 years, using his private space company, SpaceX, to realize his ambition to make humanity an interplanetary species.

Later in the week, he had to send an email around to Tesla employees reminding them not to engage in discounting on vehicles sales.

Life on Mars versus … come on down!!!

The contrast was vivid. I think I’m safe in saying that no other captain of American industry has ever grappled with something so visionary and captivating on the one hand and so drearily mundane on the other. Henry Ford wasn’t trying to go to the Moon at the same time he was building the Model T.

Too much success

Musk has become a victim of his own success. There hasn’t been a viable new American car company created since the 1930s, but in just over a decade, Musk has forged not just a new automaker, but also a carmaker that has pushed electric vehicles forward for the first time since they lost out to internal-combustion engines over 100 years ago.

And although a mission to Mars has been much discussed since the late 1960s and the moon landings, the assumption has always been that NASA would undertake it. With SpaceX, Musk is striving to remake that notion. (NASA may still do it, but NASA lacks a charismatic leader to stand up and articulate the way it’s going to happen.)

spacex elon musk mars colonization Why stop at Mars when can go to Jupiter? SpaceX/YouTube

As Tesla progresses toward being a mass-market automaker — leaving its high-tech, luxury, niche existence behind — Musk will have to deal with more head-warping. Manufacturing and selling cars isn’t very space-age; rather, it’s plug-and-chug. Supply-chain management rules the day, and sales are largely transacted one at a time, between a buyer and dealer.

Tesla wants to cut the dealer out of the picture, selling directly to the consumer, so Musk doesn’t even have that buffer. He himself has to lay down the law if he detects any slippage in his full-price-only business model.

He’s certainly price conscious when it comes to the cost of space travel — he wants to make going to Mars as cheap as buying a Tesla Model S. But the ambition required to even bring that calculation into the picture is an order of magnitude greater than what Musk has achieved with Tesla. Rocket science is, after all, rocket science.

A hard choice

I don’t personally want Musk to stop running Tesla day-to-day so that he can focus all his energies on SpaceX. But I also realize that even if Musk moves the needle just a bit on “backing up the biosphere,” as he likes to put it, in case that wayward asteroid heads our way, then that’s where his attention should be. There’s no shortage of talented leadership in the auto industry, and Tesla could probably use a more experienced hand to guide it into its next phase.

elon musk Parting would be sweet sorrow. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

I don’t think Musk wants to “retire” as CEO of Tesla, either. Ultimately, he sees electric cars and a mission to Mars as linked; the former gets us off fossil fuels and the latter provides us with an escape hatch.

But priorities are in order, and as much as Musk, a creature of Silicon Valley, has learned the lesson of Steve Jobs and Apple — companies that sacrifice their visionaries in favor of stewards do so at their peril — he doesn’t appear to fully understand just how daunting his objective has become.

Jobs wanted to sell more computers, music players, and phones, with cool design values. He never said anything about leaving orbit and heading for a red world 34 million miles away.

Musk has his issues and his critics, and he isn’t always the finest business leader in all the land. But there’s really never been anyone else like him in American business life — or really science and technology life, either. You have to go back to Thomas Edison at least to find anyone even close.

Tesla is an important company, but for several years now, I’ve had the sense that SpaceX is more important. Space has always been something that nations do. But Musk is changing that (even though NASA is still his biggest client). The Mars plan he laid out is astonishing. And he should now allow it to take up all his time.

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