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A Tesla 2017 Update: A Disruptive Force With A Debt Problem!

These are certainly exciting times for Tesla. The first production version of the Tesla 3 was unveiled on July 28, with few surprises on the details and plenty of good reviews. Elon Musk was his usual self, alternating between celebrating success and warning investors in the stock that the company was approaching “manufacturing hell”, as it ramped up its production schedule to meet its target of producing 10,000 cars a week. It is perhaps to cover the cash burn in manufacturing hell that Tesla also announced that it planned to raise $1.5 billion in a junk bond offering. Investors continued to be unfazed by the negative and lapped up the positive, as the stock price soared to $365 yesterday. With all of this happening, it is time for me to revisit my Tesla valuation, last updated in July 2016, and incorporate, as best as I can, what I have learned about the company since then.

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Tesla: The Story Stock

I have been following Tesla for a few years and rather than revisit the entire history, let me go back to just my most recent post on the company in July 2016, where I called Tesla the ultimate story stock. I argued that wide differences between investors on what Tesla is worth can be traced to divergent story lines on the stock. I used the picture below to illustrate the story choices that you had when it came to Tesla and how those choices affected the inputs into the valuation.

Tesla 2017 Update

In that post, I also traced out the effect of story choices on value, by estimating how the numbers vary, depending upon the business, focus and competitive edge that you saw Tesla having in the future:

Tesla 2017 Update

With my base case story of Tesla being an auto/tech company with revenues pushing towards mass market levels and margins resembling those of tech companies, I estimated a value of about $151 a share for the company and my best case estimate of value was $316.46.

Tesla: Operating Update

If you are invested in or have been following Tesla for the last year, you are certainly aware that the market has blown through my best case scenario, with the stock trading this morning at $365 a share, completing a triumphant year in markets:

Tesla 2017 Update

As Tesla's stock price rose, it broke through milestones that guaranteed it publicity along the way. It's market capitalization exceeded that of Ford and General Motors in April 2016, and in June 2016, Tesla leapfrogged BMW to become the fourth largest market cap automaker in the world, though it has dropped back to fifth since.

Tesla 2017 Update

Largest Auto Companies (Market Capitalization) on August 9, 2017

While Tesla's market cap has caught up with those larger auto makers, its production and revenues are a fraction of theirs, leading some to use metrics like enterprise value per car sold to conclude that Tesla is massively over valued. I don't have faith in these pricing metrics since they can be misleading, especially when comparing a company with massive potential to companies that are in decline, as I think many of the conventional auto companies in this table are currently.

As I noted at the start of the post, it has been an eventful year for Tesla, with the completion of the Solar City acquisition and the imminence of the Tesla 3 dominating news, and its financial results reflect its changes as a company. In the twelve months ended June 30, 2017, Tesla's revenues hit $10.07 billion, up from $7 billion in its most recent fiscal year, which ended on December 31, 3016; on an annualized basis, that translates into a revenue growth rate of 107%. That positive news, though, has to be offset at least partially with the bad news, which is that the company continued to lose money, reporting an operating loss of $638 million in the most recent 12 months, with R&D expensed, and a loss of $103 million, with capitalized R&D. The growth in the company can be seen graphically by looking at how quickly its operations have scaled up, over the last few years:

Tesla 2017 Update

Tesla's growth has not just been in the operating numbers but in its influence on the automobile sector. While it was dismissed by the other automobile companies as a newcomer that would learn the facts of life in the sector, as it aged, the reverse has occurred. It is the conventional automobile companies that are, slowly but surely, coming to the recognition that Tesla has changed their long-standing business. Volvo, a Swedish automaker not known for its flair, announced recently that all of its cars would be either electric or hybrid by 2019, and Ford's CEO was displaced for not being more future oriented. A little more than a decade after it burst on to the scene, it is a testimonial to Elon Musk that he has started the disruption of one of the most tradition-bound sectors in business.

Tesla: Valuation Update

The production hiccups notwithstanding, the company continues to move towards production of the Tesla 3, with the delivery of the handful to start the process. There is much that needs to be done, but I consider it a good sign that the company sees a manufacturing crunch approaching, since I would be concerned if they were to claim that they could ramp up from 94,000 to 500,000 cars effortlessly. My updated story for Tesla then is close to the story that I was telling in July 2016, with two minor changes. The first is that the production models of the Tesla 3 indicate that the company is capable of delivering a car that can appeal to a much broader market than prior models, putting it on a pathway to higher revenues. My expected revenues for Tesla in ten years are close to $93 billion, a nine-fold increase from last year's revenues and a higher target than the $81 billion that I projected in my July 2016 valuation. Second, the operating margins, while still negative, have become less so, reducing reinvestment needs for funding growth. The free cash flows are still negative for the next seven years, a cash burn that will require about $15.5 billion in new capital infusions over that period. With those changes, the value per share that I estimate is about $192/share, about 20% higher than my $151 estimate a year ago, but well below the current price per share of $365.

Tesla 2017 Update

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As with every Tesla valuation that I have done, I am sure (and I hope) that you will disagree with me, with some finding me way too pessimistic about Tesla's future, and others, much