More Telling Views on Elon Musk’s Tesla Ambitions

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Would Tony Stark tweet while flying in an Iron Man movie? That has to be what some long investors and short sellers alike in Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) have to be wondering. This volatile stock was up almost 11% on Tuesday after rumors of a $2 billion Saudi investment stake surfaced, and then the news flow became just that much murkier after a tweet from Elon Musk that he wants to take the electric vehicle company private at $420 per share.

Obviously, this has generated a lot of buzz, but it also calls into question the ethics, motivation and even the legality behind this maneuver. That said, it has been reported that the Tesla board of directors has met several times to evaluate the possibility of Musk taking the company private.

24/7 Wall St. has reviewed the news and the impact already, but there are many analysts and pundits on Wall Street who have decided that they must update their targets and views based on the new developments.

Former SEC Chair Harvey Pitt appeared on CNBC on Wednesday morning and opined that a case of securities fraud may have been committed here, if it can be proven that Musk was trying to manipulate the market. Pitt also noted that the move could put Musk at risk of civil and criminal penalties down the road.

Merrill Lynch’s John Murphy maintained his Underperform rating and a $200 price objective based on much of the details being unclear. That report noted that funding is still needed, even if the Saudis or Chinese are involved. The Merrill Lynch report said:

It should be noted that the proposal/transaction is far from finalized, and would require a shareholder vote. More importantly, although Tesla did confirm a potential privatization through Musk’s statement, no theoretical transaction method, funding plan, or structure was outlined, and there is still some skepticism over whether such a transaction would ultimately (or even could) be executed… While much remains to be further elucidated at this point in time, we do assign some credence to the speculation. However, we continue to question the longer term profitability, cash flow, and valuation of Tesla.

CFRA (S&P) reiterated its Hold rating on Tesla but raised its target to $380 from $300. The report from Efraim Levy said:

We are surprised by his claim of financing secured, even as the FT reports the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund took a stake in Tesla. Also, we see risks to achieving fruition, given our belief that additional cash funding would be prudent operationally, even without leverage from a buyout… we now expect a fourth quarter profit versus our prior modest loss outlook. Without a buyout, we factor in the rapid acceleration of profits we expect as TSLA soon ramps up more production of its Model 3 and the unusual investor support Tesla receives.

Tesla was maintained as Hold but the target price was raised to $360 from $250 at Jefferies.

Independent Research has a Hold rating, but the firm raised its price target to $420 from $288, based on the telegraphed price.

JPMorgan has an Underweight rating on Tesla but the firm raised its price target to $308 from $195, based on a blended $195/$420 weighting.

Tesla shares were up almost 11% at $379.57 after the halt in trading was lifted on Tuesday. The day-after reaction, at least in Wednesday’s late-morning trading session, was down 1.9% at $372.30 and the 9 million shares traded on average was already over 14 million shares approaching the noon hour.

Tesla’s stock has a 52-week trading range of $244.59 to $389.61, and it had a consensus analyst price target of $320.67 prior to the news and ratings changes seen so far. Remember: Tesla remains among the most shorted stocks on Wall Street.