As Tesla Inc. (NYSE: TSLA) prepares to be added to the S&P 500, its market value continues to rise almost every day. It has reached $555 billion. That puts it ahead of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-B), which is one of the most successful conglomerates in history and is run by a man often described as the world’s greatest investor. Berkshire’s market cap is $542 billion.
Tesla’s revenue in the third quarter was modest (by the standards of large global car companies) at $8.8 billion. Of this revenue, $7.6 billion was from auto operations. Tesla is also in the solar power business. Net income across the company was $331 million, and Tesla delivered 139,593 vehicles in the period.
For some sense of scale, note that Volkswagen sold almost 11 million cars worldwide last year, spread across all of its brands. Of course, VW’s revenue growth is in the low single-digit billions, and Tesla continues to post double-digit growth. However, it would take years for Tesla to match VW unit sales, even at its current growth pace.
Berkshire Hathaway’s revenue in the third quarter was $63 billion. Because of equity holdings, it made over $30 billion. Berkshire has huge investments in railroads, energy operations, financial companies and insurance firms, and it owns stock in some of America’s largest public corporations, including Amazon, Apple and Bank of America.
The argument on behalf of Tesla’s market cap is that it will dominate what will become a massive electric car industry. The argument also presumes that the global EV industry will be large enough so that Tesla will be able to sell millions of cars, much closer to VW’s volume today than to its own. The stretch in this is certainly that Tesla already has competition, much of it from the world’s largest manufacturers.
Berkshire Hathaway could be considered part of the global economy’s past, or at least some parts of it are. Railroad assets are a portion of its mix of revenue. Insurance and finance are, though it is hard to think about how these could be disrupted at the core of their business models. While Berkshire does own piece of tech’s biggest winners, particularly Amazon and Apple, it also owns parts of companies that are no longer growing quickly, such as America’s largest banks, Coca-Cola, Kroger and Kraft Heinz.
The size of Tesla’s market cap leaves investors to wonder if Tesla could become the largest car company in the world. Even if its sales rise to 10 million units a year, does that justify a market cap of over half a trillion? If Tesla’s sales flatten, the answer will be easy.