Tesla Becomes One of America's 25 Most Valuable Companies

The market cap of Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) has risen so rapidly and so far that it has become one of America’s 25 most valuable companies by that measure. Given its modest revenue, the feat is extraordinary, and it speaks to what investors believe is a gigantic future. That future remains bright, unless the world’s largest car companies can catch it in sales of electric vehicles.

Tesla’s market cap has reached $208 billion, which is 24th on the list of America’s most valuable companies. That moves it ahead of Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) at $204 billion, Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) at $201 billion and Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) at $192 billion. Very modest growth in Tesla’s value would put it even with AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), with its $213 billion market cap.

Tesla had revenue of $6 billion in the first quarter, which is up 32% from the same period a year ago. Of that, $5.1 billion was from automotive operations. Net income was a mere $16 million. If its revenue accelerates at a similar rate for the balance of the year, automotive revenue may reach $25 billion. The COVID-19 pandemic could push that number much lower, though.

Tesla built 102,672 cars in the period, 33% higher year over year. It delivered 88,496 cars. Perhaps Tesla’s deliveries may reach 350,000 this year. Once again, the pandemic could shave that down.

Tesla’s operating numbers would be a strong basis for an argument that its market cap is well overinflated. They contrast to Volkswagen, the world’s largest carmaker by unit sales, which reached 10.97 million last year. VW claims it sold 140,000 electric cars over the period.

Tesla has made two statements that at least partially justify its value. The first is that the technology of other electric car markers is well behind it. That may be true, but other companies in the business would debate it. The second is that no other electric car company can match its sales. While that may be true in aggregate, the world’s largest car companies together easily may have electric car sales much larger than Tesla’s this year.

Tesla also might point to demand. It is hard to know from outside the company how long the waiting list is for its models. A Model S is available for delivery in eight to 12 weeks. For versions of the Model S already built and in inventory, the time is much shorter. Like most other car companies, it offers low-interest-rate car loans. For some of its vehicles, the number is 2.49% over 72 months. That figure, by itself, indicates that Tesla has to offer some incentive to move its cars off the lot.

Is Tesla worth $208 billion? Perhaps its electric truck will make sales surge. Perhaps its autonomous car technology will be years ahead of what other car companies offer. One thing is certain. Every major car company wants to catch it in electric car sales. That makes its position as front-runner fragile.