Tesla stock flirted again with its all-time high on Tuesday, marching ever onward and upward as bears and short-sellers attempted to impart their wisdom to the bulls. Bank of America Merrill Lynch slashed its price objective, warning that SolarCity has created material risk to the company’s long-term viability, as financial analytics firm S3 Partners noted that even bad news hasn’t been able to take down Tesla stock.
Meanwhile, Greenlight Capital says don’t worry: the bubble will pop.
Tesla stock is working, but is it just temporary?
In a note dated April 25, Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst John Murphy said he trimmed his price objected for Tesla stock from $170 to $165 and reiterated his Underperform rating. He noted that as always, there’s been a lot of news surrounding the company, ranging from the SolarCity acquisition, which closed in November 2016, and its “still very serious cash burn problem.” The company raised another $1.2 billion last month to support the Model 3. CEO Elon Musk has also done a good job drumming up enthusiasm for the Tesla semi and pickup truck.
He added that while shareholders are clearly still positive on his long-term vision, he has a “much less favorable view” of all these events. For example, he feels that SolarCity “introduces material risks” to the combined company’s long-term viability. He also noted that the latest capital raise dilutes shareholder value further. Investors have clearly refused to listen to reason, given that Tesla is one company whose stock can still rise immediately after management announces plans to dilute shareholder value.
Looking for earnings and cash flow
Murphy added that shareholders seem happy to come second after Tesla’s “clean energy crusade.” This year is the tenth consecutive year the company is raising capital, he noted, but the bulls keep running because Musk is able to keep them excited. However, he warned that support for Tesla stock will likely evaporate one day—unless, of course it is able “to demonstrate consistently positive earnings and free cash flow, something he sees as unlikely.
In the wake of the SolarCity deal, he feels that positive earnings and cash flow are now more elusive than ever. He believes the impact from the SolarCity deal on shareholder value is “questionable, at best, given the loss-making and still cash-burning business being acquired, dilutive element of the stock-for-stock transaction, and an industrial logic that is still vague to us at this point.”
“It appears to us that TSLA and its executives are more focused on creating a vertically integrated clean energy company (offering transportation, charging, and home/business energy solutions), rather than generating profits and returns,” Murphy and team wrote.
The sell side sees management as acting like a teenager or child pressing the boundaries, seeing how far over the line they can get before Mom and Dad enact punishment.
Tesla stock is like a freight train
Tesla stock has been like a freight train for many years, but perhaps now more so than ever before. Even in the case of very bad news, the train keeps on chugging along. Ihor Dusaniwsky of S3 Partners noted that short-sellers have endured plenty of pain lately despite the recall of 53,000 vehicles related to the electric parking brakes and the lawsuit which called Tesla’s Autopilot “demonstrably dangerous.” It seems investors were so thrilled with the prospect of a Tesla semi that those concerns were cancelled out. According to S3’s data, short interest in Tesla stock now stands at $9.2 billion, up from $7.2 billion when the year began.
David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital is one of those enduring the pain of shorting Tesla stock, and the firm addressed this in its investor letter dated April 25, which was obtained by ValueWalk. The firm noted that the first quarter was a difficult one in which to “short the bubble basket, and TSLA in particular.”
“Perhaps as the prospects for tax reform have dimmed, the market has regained enthusiasm for profitless companies that aren’t at risk of paying taxes,” Greenlight management wrote. “A number of these stocks are back in full-blown momentum mode. Analysts continue to raise ‘target prices’ which the market treats as news.”
The firm also noted that bulls continue trying to make the case that fundamentals don’t matter to certain stocks, a story we’ve heard countless times in the argument for Tesla stock. It also compared the stocks in its so-called “bubble basket” to the dot-com bubble and assured investors that this is one bubble that will pop—they just don’t know when.
Shares of Tesla stock rose as high as $313.68 during regular trading hours on Tuesday, coming up just short of their all-time high of $313.73. The company has been battling General Motors for the title of Most Valuable U.S. Auto Company, and as of this writing, Tesla is ahead with a market cap of $51.86 billion, versus GM’s $51.07 billion.