Since Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk made his comments at the Detroit Auto Show, Wall Street has been abuzz with commentary on what he said. The latest insight comes from Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas, who has been known for his ultra-bullish view on Tesla.
Tesla pressured from multiple angles
In a report dated Jan. 21, Jonas noted several areas in which Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) could face problems. The automaker’s share price has struggled as oil prices have declined significantly in the last several months. Of course sales of the luxury Model S sedan won’t see much of an impact from this issue, but sales of the upcoming Model 3, which has a lower price point, now seem less certain.
Jonas also notes that as the U.S. dollar strengthens, Tesla will also see continued pressure because of how much exposure it has to international markets. More than half of the automaker’s sales come from outside the U.S., and all of its production is based in the U.S.
Looking at specific markets, the analyst said he estimates that almost 30% of Tesla’s volume will come from Western Europe this year. If the euro weakens by 10% against the U.S. dollar, Tesla could feel a negative impact of as much as $100 million, not counting any hedging efforts. As a result, they cut $70 million from their operating forecast for this year and $20 million from the fourth quarter.
Addressing Elon Musk’s auto show comments
Jonas also weighed in on what Tesla CEO Elon Musk said at the Detroi Auto Show last week. Musk said they expect to be GAAP profitable in the U.S. by 2020. However, Jonas said his forecasts suggest Tesla will have almost $1.6 billion in U.S. GAAP profit by 2020.
He points out that Musk might be taking into differences in lease penetration and stock compensation for employees. On the other hand though, he suggests Tesla might be planning to spend more on capital expenditures and research and development spending than he expects. The automaker expects to be selling “millions” of vehicles per year by 2025, but Jonas estimates that Tesla will only be selling 563,000 annual sales by then.
A third option, according to Jonas, is that Musk might have been trying to “send a defiant message” in light of falling oil prices. Essentially, he suggests that the executive might have been just trying to say that they’re not giving up on plans to bring an electric car to the mass market. But no matter what motivated Musk’s comments, the analyst cautions investors about Tesla’s future.
“For a stock where many untested long-term earnings and growth assumptions must be made to value the company, the comments take the tone of forecast uncertainty to entirely new levels,” Jonas and his team wrote in their note.
Tesla price target cut
As a result of all these factors, the Morgan Stanley analyst trimmed his price target from $290 to $280 per share. He maintains his Overweight rating on Tesla stock, however. He also reduced his fourth quarter volume estimate from 11,165 to 9,993 units. That would provide a full year volume of 31,814, which is more than 1,000 lower than Tesla’s own target. His gross margin estimate falls from 29.6% to 28% due to the lower volume estimate and also impacts from the strengthening U.S. dollar.
The analyst noted that there’s been a shift in sentiment on Tesla toward the positive based on the company’s technology. He thinks some now believe the automaker’s technology will make traditional car engines “obsolete” in just a few years, but that’s not why he likes Tesla. He doesn’t believe the hype but still sees reason to justify an upside of almost 50% to Tesla shares.
Shares of Tesla Motors edged upward by as much as 2% during regular trading hours today.