Does Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) know the right way to do earnings reports? Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Weil doesn’t think so. He stops short of calling shenanigans on Tesla’s latest earnings report and instead suggests that the automaker just doesn’t know the right way to compile its earnings reports.
Tesla’s GAAP versus non-GAAP results
At issue is the way Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) appears to play up its far more favorable non-GAAP results and push its less favorable GAAP results further down in its report. Weil noted that the automaker spent three pages discussing non-standard financial metrics which are not in compliances with GAAP, or generally accepted accounting principles.
Finally at the bottom of the third page, Tesla started getting into its GAAP results, and it didn’t mention its $38 million GAAP third quarter net loss until the fourth page. The automaker also didn’t include a table which reconciled its non-GAAP metrics with its GAAP metrics until several pages after that.
Does Tesla comply with SEC rules?
Weil questions whether Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s latest report complies with rules set forth by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The rules state that companies must make GAAP metrics have “equal or greater prominence” than non-GAAP metrics. The rules have been in place for 10 years after Weil says a number of other companies used similar tactics.
A Tesla spokesperson told him that they comply with “all legal obligations” in all of their regulatory filings. However, she apparently wouldn’t provide more details about how they comply with the rules of the SEC.
Where Tesla might have problems
Dan Mahoney, chief of the accounting-research firm CFRA, said he agreed with Weil’s assessment that Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s latest earnings report might not be in compliance with SEC rules. He found two potential problems with the automaker’s non-GAAP report. Tesla started a financing program which allows customers to sell back their vehicles after three years for a guaranteed price. This means the company must defer some of that revenue and call these transactions leases.
According to Mahoney, Tesla’s methods may overstate its true growth and demand and also assumes that no one will return their vehicle.
Are there other problems in Tesla’s financials?
Weil also questions whether these concerns mean there may be even more problems with Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s accounting methods. The automaker has said in past filings that it failed to comply with regulations in some areas, and it ended up having to restate some of its cash flow numbers. The company said that as of September, these controls still weren’t where they need to be.
His report does raise some very interesting questions, and unfortunately they come at a time when Tesla doesn’t really need any more bad press. A key issue is going to be exactly how long it takes the automaker to sort these issues out and fix them.