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Tesla Crash Sinks Stock: Shorts Rejoice, Bulls See Opportunity

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Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) is the latest Wall Street darling to be ravaged by bears due to an onslaught of negative headlines. The deadly Tesla crash in California has sparked a regulatory investigation, which is only adding to the liquidity concerns and worries about the Model 3 ramp. Tesla stock plunged to its lowest level in a year, giving short-sellers plenty to rejoice about, but one analyst sees the weakness as only temporary.

Tesla crash under investigation by NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board said today that it’s investigating the Tesla crash in California that claimed the life of the driver. It happened on March 23 in the Mountain View area, and the agency tweeted that it’s looking into whether Autopilot was engaged at the time of the accident. Regulators are also investigating the fire that happened after the Tesla crash and looking into the steps needed to safely move the vehicle from the scene of the accident.

The company itself offered up a few details about the accident in a blog post late Tuesday. The Tesla crash involved a Model X, and the company said that it hasn’t been able to retrieve the logs from the vehicle because of the “extensive damage caused by the collision.” Until Tesla is able to safely get those logs from the Model X, it won’t be able to understand what happened in the minutes leading up to the crash.

However, the automaker did say that one reason the Tesla crash was so serious is that the safety barrier that’s meant to reduce impact when a vehicle crashes into a concrete divider had been either removed or crushed in a previous collision and then not replaced.

Tesla stock plunges, giving short-sellers a boost

Tesla stock tanked on Tuesday and continued to dive on Wednesday, falling by about 9% to its lowest level in a year. Data from financial analytics firm S3 Partners indicates that Tesla stock is the second-biggest short among U.S. equities, with only Apple being larger. After the plunge following the Tesla crash, the company’s stock also became the most profitable short in the U.S.

According to S3 Managing Director Ihor Dusaniwsky, short-sellers have racked up $835 million in mark-to-market profits year to date. This month alone, Tesla stock brought short-sellers $1.86 billion in profits, and on Tuesday alone, the shorts were up $749 million. Still, the shorts have a lot of ground to make up on Tesla stock, given that they lost $866 million in 2016 and $3.6 billion in 2017. This week’s gains have only enabled short-sellers to recoup some 20% of the losses recorded in the previous two years.

A buying opportunity for Tesla stock?

Last week’s deadly Tesla crash is only part of the negative picture for Tesla stock right now. Before the accident was revealed, the Street already had the jitters over potential liquidity concerns in connection with the delayed Model 3 ramp. However, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas downplayed these concerns in a note this week, saying he sees a buying opportunity for Tesla stock. His commentary was similar in some ways to what Baird analysts said earlier this week.

Although he did mention the investigation of last week’s Tesla crash, Jonas feels investors are still mostly focused on the Model 3 ramp. He said the key question is when the automaker can begin producing 2,500 of them weekly, followed by the next milestone of 5,000 Model 3 cars weekly, which he doesn’t expect until the last quarter of this year.

Amid all the negative sentiment surrounding Tesla stock right now, the Morgan Stanley analyst sees “one of the buying opportunities that many investors have been waiting for.” He suggests using any additional weakness as a chance to build up an Equal-weight position in Tesla stock, which he sees as “modestly undervalued with very high risk, particularly for investors who are not comfortable with extreme volatility.”

Moody’s downgrades Tesla’s credit rating

As if the issues weighing on Tesla stock weren’t enough, many investors were concerned that Moody’s would downgrade the automaker’s credit rating, and as a result, Tesla’s junk bonds became a popular short as well. Late Tuesday, these concerns were confirmed, as Moody’s announced that it had cut Tesla’s corporate family credit rating from B2 to B3. The firm also downgraded Tesla’s senior notes from B3 to Caa1 and slashed the company’s speculative grade liquidity from SGL-3 to SGL-4. The price for Tesla’s eight-year junk bond maturing in 2025 plunged to the lowest level since its August issue.

Tesla stock tanked by more than 9% in intraday trading today, falling as low as $252.90 before midday.

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