The bears are growling ever louder, obviously tired of Elon Musk’s endless parade of failed promises and red ink. Tesla Inc., if you hadn’t noticed, is in very deep trouble.
One of every three Wall Street analysts covering Tesla has a “sell” rating on the stock, reports Bloomberg.
NASDAQ still rates Tesla a consensus “buy,” but just barely. The consensus price target is $305, slightly below the $312 Tesla is trading at as I write this (all figures in U.S. dollars). Tesla did, indeed, hit the magic 5,000 target for Model 3 production in a single week recently. But few believe Tesla can sustain 5,000 a week while also keeping up with production of the Model S and X and putting out all the many fires that keep igniting in and around the company.
Nonetheless, no one should forget that institutions still hold 62 per cent of Tesla’s stock ($32.3 billion worth), so don’t expect a mass selloff, even with the worst of news. T. Rowe Price, Fidelity, Baillie, Vanguard, Black Rock and the like will not dump their Tesla holdings en masse, thereby committing a form of public financial suicide.
Still, some highly prominent analysts are urging clients to sell – among them John Murphy at Merrill Lynch, Efram Levy at CFRA and Colin Langan at UBS. Perhaps more telling, the greatest Tesla bull on Wall Street, Adam Jonas, has a “hold” on Tesla and a price target of $291, far, far, far below his once-optimistic view of Tesla. Note: a “hold” on Wall Street is often the kindest way to say “bail.”
Ah, Jonas. Three summers ago, in August 2015, Tesla shares were trading around $260, but Jonas had a price target of $465 on the stock. Apparently, Jonas’s thinking has “evolved.”
“We previously thought that if one were to look out longer-term, there would be a greater likelihood that Tesla could justify a market valuation far above (and possibly even a multiple of) its current capitalization,” Jonas said in a bafflegab note to clients in May, reported by Business Insider.
Meantime, Elon Musk himself is lashing out at critics with increasing vehemence. A sign of desperation?
“One analyst who covers Tesla for a large bank says many observers believe Tesla lacks ‘grown ups’ to rein in Mr. Musk’s outbursts, particularly on Twitter, where he goads journalists and promises to ‘burn’ speculators who short the company’s shares,” notes the Financial Times.
One anonymous analyst, adds the Financial Times, suggests that while Musk’s quirks and erraticisms have been in the past intriguing, even endearing and a catalyst for Tesla’s valuation and consumer interest, now Musk “has gone full Trump. The pressure, the need for attention – it’s weird, his mental state is deteriorating.” Is Musk nuts? Is that what this analyst is saying?
In any case, many believe the next six months are make-or-break months for Tesla. The coming operational and financial targets are massive and it’s quite possible that a failure to meet any of them will be catastrophic – especially so, given the tremendous short interest in Tesla shares.
I, for one, don’t believe Tesla as a brand will disappear, but I do think the big investors are going to apply pressure on Musk to reign in his erratic behaviour and concentrate on building the company in which they have invested so heavily.
I would not be surprised to see Tesla merge with a large tech company or form a tight alliance with an established automaker. Either development would see Musk eased out of the operational role he now holds and for which he appears entirely unsuited. He might serve Tesla better as a “visionary” and brand ambassador.
Finally, despite Tesla’s well documented reluctance to let the press test drive its cars, I have secured a test of a Model 3 later this month – with no help at all from Tesla. I hope I am impressed because I want electric cars to succeed. Stay tuned.