Tesla Motors Inc Bulls And Bears React To Auto Show Comments

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Tesla Motors stock just got killed on Wednesday after CEO Elon Musk’s comments at the International Auto Show in Detroit this week. Of course those comments can be spun either way, depending on whether you take the bullish or bearish view of the automaker.

Unsurprisingly, bears are saying the equivalent of, “Told ya so,” while bulls are saying, “Eh, it doesn’t matter.”

No surprise in Tesla’s comments

In a report dated Jan. 14, Stifel analyst James Albertine takes the bullish view of Tesla. He has a Buy rating and crazy-high price target of $400 per share on the automaker.

He points out that the auto industry is very “capital intensive.” In fact, automakers don’t turn a profit until well into the production run, and Tesla is a newcomer compared to those that have been around for many decades. Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne pointed this out at the auto show as well, saying how rare it is for carmakers to make more than their cost of capital in a cycle.

The Stifel analyst emphasizes again that demand for Tesla’s cars is important and that it appears to be very strong in the company’s core markets. He also said demand appears to be tracking with their expectations.

In terms of Musk’s comments about weak demand in China, he notes that the company only recently entered the market. He also points out that Tesla isn’t the only automaker and supplier that has seen deceleration there. Overall, he thinks the initial knee-jerk reaction to Musk’s comments was overblown and “fails to recognize TSLA’s value to the global auto industry, and global auto consumer.”

“Cold water” on the ultra-bull case for Tesla

On the other hand, Barclays analyst Brian Johnson said he thinks Musk’s comments were “a splash of cold water on the hyper-bull thesis” for Tesla. He has an Equal Weight rating and $220 per share price target on the company.

He points out that Tesla bulls often forget that the automaker’s operating margins are probably going to remain low, probably at least until toward the end of the current decade. He said this means Wall Street may be expecting too much, and as a result, Tesla could miss estimates going forward. The analyst is estimating operating margins in the 2% to 4% range through 2017 and then 7% in 2018 and 2019 and almost 9.5% in 2020.

Johnson also reminds us of comments Musk made last year suggesting that sales in China should reach the same level as the U.S. by this year. However, it looks like that may not end up being the case, at least if Tesla continues to struggle there. He thinks the company increased its focus on the U.S. because of the challenges it is facing in China. Nonetheless, Tesla still needs China in order to successfully ramp up volumes to where they need to be.

He said Musk’s comments support his view that Tesla will probably have troubles reaching its volume ramp, which is for 500,000 cars by 2020. The analyst thinks the automaker will only reach a volume of about 426,000 by 2020, thus missing Tesla’s own target. He also thinks the company will have trouble living up to Musk’s comments that they will be selling a “few million units” by 2025.

Shares of Tesla Motors retreated as much as 1% during regular trading hours today.

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