Why Analysts Are Taking a Mixed Stance on Tesla

Chris Lange

Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) has been a big question mark for market analysts for years now. Most let it go that the company is far from profitable and focused more on the underlying technology that the firm was developing. But now that Tesla is becoming more of an auto company, it seems the rules may start to apply or at least that seems to be the way some analysts are voting with their ratings.

The firm released its most recent quarterly report this week. While earnings did beat expectations for the quarter, the company still posted a massive loss and underdelivered on its Model S and Model X vehicles. And even with this setback, analysts might have a negative view on the stock, but this didn’t stop them from hiking their targets.

24/7 Wall St. has included some highlights from the earnings report, as well as what analysts said afterward.

The number that analysts were looking at most was autos delivered in the quarter. Everyone has generally accepted that Tesla will not turn a profit anytime soon, but if the company can manage to ramp up its production, we can expect a profit sooner than later.

For example, automotive revenue increased by 36% year over year during the fourth quarter, mainly due to 35% growth in vehicle deliveries. For the 2017 full year, automotive revenue was up 52%.

In terms of the actual numbers, Tesla delivered 28,425 Model S and Model X vehicles and 1,542 Model 3 vehicles, totaling 29,967 deliveries. Combined Model S and Model X net orders in the quarter were just shy of the third quarter’s all-time high. Importantly, combined orders for Model S and Model X grew significantly in 2017 compared to 2016.

As for earnings, Tesla notched a net loss of $3.04 per share on $3.29 billion in revenue for the quarter. The consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters had called for a net loss of $3.12 per share on revenue of $3.28 billion. The same period of last year reportedly had a $0.69 per share net loss and $2.28 billion in revenue.

CFRA (S&P) reiterated a Sell rating on Tesla with a $275 price target. Its report detailed:

An adjusted Q4 loss per share of $3.04 vs. a $0.69 loss is narrower than the consensus loss per share estimate of $3.15. Q4 revenues slightly beat the consensus and gross margins were in line with our below guidance view. Our first impression skews positive. Notably, reported free cash flow was much less negative than expected, while cash from vehicle deposits surged. With cash at $3.4 billion, this should mitigate potential capital raising needs. No further delays in Model production anticipated should be taken positively. We expect more details on this evening’s investor call.

Merrill Lynch maintained its Underperform rating with a $180 price objective. The firm cited the slow Model 3 launch in the fourth quarter, but reserve boosters fueled the cash tank for now. Also, the firm noted that the cash level is OK for now, but free cash flow is less robust than it appears. The 2018 full year outlook is limited and much depends on the Model 3 ramp. Merrill Lynch gave its investment rationale as follows:

We view Tesla as a trailblazer in the electric vehicle market, and believe it could ultimately be successful as demand for EVs increases. However, Tesla continues to burn material levels of cash, while failing to turn a corner on profits and returns. Despite being a growing top line business in need of capital to fund its ambitious growth plans, we think investors may grow tired of supplying Tesla with incremental low-cost capital in perpetuity if investments fail to generate returns soon.

Other analysts also weighed in on Tesla following the report:

  • Sanford Bernstein has a Neutral rating and a $265 price target.
  • Goldman Sachs has a Sell rating with a $205 price target.
  • Piper Jaffray has a Buy rating with a $385 price target.
  • Berenberg raised its price target to $470 from $455.
  • Cowen raised the price target from $170 to $200.
  • Deutsche Bank raised the price target from $310 to $365.
  • Dougherty raised its target price to $400 from $340.
  • JPMorgan has an Underweight rating and raised its target to $190 from $185.

Shares of Tesla closed the week out at $310.42, with a consensus analyst price target of $322.35 and a 52-week range of $242.01 to $389.61.