Can Tesla Remain Worth One-Third of Ford and Half of GM?

Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) has defied logic when it comes to valuation for a car company. We have by and large stopped tallying up valuation metrics because there are forces driving this stock that are way beyond price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios and price-to-sales ratios. It goes way beyond EBITDA and other accounting valuation methods as well.

This is a runaway stock in a bull market. Still, should Tesla command close to one-third of the value of Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) and close to half of the value of General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM)? R.W. Baird downgraded Tesla on Wednesday based on execution risks and due to excessive valuations.

24/7 Wall St. wanted to look at how high Tesla’s valuations have become now, compared with Ford and GM. We used the consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters for 2013 and 2014 on each for a comparison. Tesla’s stock price was $180.95 as of Wednesday’s closing bell. That is up more than 400% from the last day of 2012, when it closed at $33.87. A lot has changed, but we wanted to put forward some serious numbers.

Tesla traded down 6% to $180.95, against a 52-week range of $26.86 to $194.50, on Wednesday, but its market capitalization is now about $22 billion. Tesla trades at 296 times expected 2013 earnings but “only” 101 times expected 2014 earnings. The electric car maker also trades at more than 10.2 times expected 2013 sales and about 7.7 times expected 2014 sales. Keep in mind that the market cap of $22 billion compares to expected car sales of $2.86 billion for 2014, but at least one analyst expects that sales will be north of $4 billion in 2014.

Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) is worth some $67 billion, making Tesla worth almost one-third of its value in raw dollars. The difference is that Ford trades at only 11.2 times expected 2013 earnings and only 9.8 times expected 2014 earnings. Ford also trades at only 0.47 times expected 2013 sales of more than $139 billion, as well as only about 0.46 times the expected 2014 sales of almost $146 billion.

General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) is worth about $49 billion in market cap, so Tesla’s $22 billion is about 45% of the value of GM. GM’s forward P/E ratios are 10.5 for 2013 and just under 8 for 2014, and its forward price/sales ratios are 0.31 for 2013 and 0.29 for 2014. GM is expected to have sales of almost $166 billion in 2014.

Again, different forces are at work in Tesla’s stock valuation that are not merely financial. That being said, imagine applying an average multiple of Ford or GM to Tesla simply for posturing purposes. On that basis, Tesla’s stock would be down the drain and maybe even under $20. Conversely, imagine if GM or Ford got to carry even a pittance of the valuation that Tesla gets — the sky’s the limit.

The admission that has to be made is that Tesla is not being valued for 2013 nor 2014 numbers. Elon Musk’s electric car empire is a game being valued for 2016 or even 2020, just like Jeff Bezos and Tesla also is being given another huge valuation boost because it is hoped to have electric cars for the masses in the coming years.

There are a couple serious caveats here to which shareholders and traders alike better pay attention. After having seen this game before, new investors are taking on serious risks, even if this stock manages to somehow double yet again. If there is another hiccup in the economy that cuts discretionary spending for the likes of Tesla and other super-premiums, then watch out. We did not even warn about a recession. Tesla must come up with a more affordable mass-market electric car at a price that will be bought by the tens of thousands (or more).

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