If Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) meets its projections for 2017, the company will sell around 100,000 new cars. Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) and General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) combined to sell more than 150,000 full-size pickup trucks alone in the month of April.
But Tesla’s market cap ($52.01 billion), as of Tuesday’s close, was higher than both GM’s ($50.15 billion) and Ford’s ($43.48 billion). Investors pushed Tesla’s shares to a new all-time high of $327.66 early Tuesday morning, while Ford shares traded at around $11 and GM’s at around $33.
At Tesla’s June 2010 IPO, the company sold 13.3 million shares at $17 per share. If you had purchased $1,000 worth of stock, you would have 58 (whole shares only) shares worth just over $19,000 today, for a return of nearly 1,600%.
The world’s largest carmaker is by market cap is Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM), valued at more than three times Tesla. The company sold 10.175 million vehicles in 2016, good enough to take second place behind Volkswagen’s 10.31 million unit sales. VW’s market cap of nearly $73 billion is roughly equal to Daimler’s. BMW, at $58.1 billion, is still ahead of Tesla as well.
But where Toyota and the other carmakers have built their reputations on selling quality cars at a variety of price points, Tesla is valued as if it were a technology company whose share price growth depends on attracting more tire-kickers than actual buyers. That’s probably a good thing because the company couldn’t build more cars than it is already selling anyway.
Tesla wants to sell 500,000 vehicles by 2020 (about a three-month supply of Ford and GM pickups) and it will have to make serious capital investments to get there. Investors are betting that the company can do that — and more — based primarily on the brand power of company founder and CEO Elon Musk, according to a London Business School professor.
Associate Professor John Mullins said:
The promise of futuristic innovation, and the power brand that is Mr Elon Musk, the progenitor of Tesla, have all gone into creating a desirable marque within just a few years. It’s the broader brand and mystique of Mr Musk himself which is almost certainly helping to drive Tesla’s valuation.
Call it the ‘Steve Jobs effect’, but given his numerous innovative ventures – Hyperloop, Tesla and Space-X to name but three – [Tesla’s valuation is as] much about betting on the future of Mr Musk as it is about Tesla.
Tesla reports earnings after the markets close Wednesday, and analysts expect the company to post a loss of $0.81 per share on revenues of $2.6 billion. In the first quarter of last year, the company reported a net loss per share of $1.45 and $1.15 billion in revenues.
Narrowing losses and growing revenues, plus a rock-star leader, are a strong brew, and investors can’t seem to get enough of it.