Why Goldman Sachs Worries That Tesla Shareholders Could Get Slaughtered

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Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) is no stranger to having extreme views by investors and analysts. Even auto industry executives cannot fathom its valuation, while CEO Elon Musk has managed to get Tesla to be valued as a future technologies company rather than a car company with a solar energy business too.

Goldman Sachs has been cautious on Tesla for some time. Now the firm has become even more cautious ahead. With the plateau in Model S sales, Goldman Sachs worries that Tesla’s stock price could get cut in half. It was only in February that Goldman Sachs lowered its official rating of Neutral down to Sell.

The firm’s David Tamberrino reiterated his Sell rating and cut his already lower than consensus target of $190 to $180 in Wednesday’s call. Musk may have communicated recently that the Model 3 production was looking ahead of plan, but Goldman Sachs is worried that Tesla is more likely to have trouble meeting its own production targets this year.

While the concerns are predominantly over slowing growth of Tesla’s current electric car sales, Tamberrino noted that Model S and Model X units appear to be plateauing slightly below an annual run rate of 100,000 units. The Goldman Sachs analyst is also concerned that the Model 3 launch curve may undershoot the company’s production targets. Also noted was that margins are likely to disappoint in the second half of 2017.

Tesla’s second-quarter deliveries of about 22,000 units were less than the Goldman Sachs forecast of 23,500 units, while the broader consensus estimate was closer to 24,200 units. Of the 22,000 units delivered, Tesla’s report from Monday showed that just over 12,000 were Model S and just over 10,000 were Model X units. Tamberrino lowered his annual growth estimate to 5% for the Model S and Model X cars through 2021, versus a prior forecast of 13%.

When Tesla released its delivery and production numbers on Monday, the company noted that production totaled 25,708 vehicles. This brought the first half of 2017 total production to 51,126 vehicles. The company addressed a lower delivery rate:

The major factor affecting Tesla’s Q2 deliveries was a severe production shortfall of 100 kWh battery packs, which are made using new technologies on new production lines. The technology challenge grows exponentially with energy density. Until early June, production averaged about 40% below demand. Once this was resolved, June orders and deliveries were strong, ranking as one of the best in Tesla history… Provided global economic conditions do not worsen considerably, we are confident that combined deliveries of Model S and Model X in the second half of 2017 will likely exceed deliveries in the first half of 2017.

Another point of concern was that Tesla’s cash burn rate is likely to increase through 2017. Goldman Sachs, which was a key player in a prior financing, now forecasts that Musk will stage his next capital for Tesla in the first half of 2018.

Tesla shares were down over 5% at $332.68 on Wednesday morning. Its 52-week trading range is $178.19 to $386.99, and the consensus analyst target price from Thomson Reuters is close to $290. Tesla shares were up over 60% so far in 2017.