Tesla Inc. shares fell more than 8% on Thursday as Wall Street analysts used some choice words to describe their dismay at the car maker selling fewer-than-expected vehicles in the first quarter.
“Ugly,” ”weak” and “disappointing” featured in initial notes, as the miss fueled renewed doubts about Tesla’s future profitability, growth and cash position.
At their lowest level Thursday, Tesla
shares were off nearly 11%, the worst percentage decline since Jan. 18. They closed down 8.2% at $267.78. The shares are a distant 30% from their record high close of $385 in September 2017.
The car maker pinned the miss on “massive” backlogs in China and in Europe. Tesla delivered about 63,000 vehicles in the first quarter, including 50,900 Model 3s; that compared with expectations of around 76,000 vehicles, including 54,600 Model 3s, according to FactSet.
Tesla reaffirmed its 2019 sales guidance of 360,000 and 400,000 vehicles.
With the weak start to the year, “they’re going to be hard pressed” to hit that guidance, especially with federal electric-vehicle tax credits being reduced mid-year and going away at year-end, said Garrett Nelson, an analyst with CFRA.
The “massive” 31% quarter-on-quarter drop also has negative implications for Tesla’s cost of sales per vehicle and “we know they’ve been lowering prices in order to prop up sales, all of which should equate to a pretty ugly quarter from a margin perspective,” he told MarketWatch.
Analysts at Bernstein, led by Toni Sacconaghi, highlighted the unexpected weakness in sales of luxury Model S and Model X vehicles, down 50% quarter on quarter. Possible explanations include seasonality, the tax credit reduction, and more competition, but “we remain perplexed by the magnitude of the decline,” they said in a note.
Tesla “is now in the uncomfortable position of likely needing to raise capital from a position of relative weakness,” the Bernstein analysts said.
“Very weak” production and delivery numbers should make Tesla bulls nervous, said a note from analysts at Cowen, led by Jeffrey Osborne. Tesla “has largely exhausted the pent-up demand for Model 3 versions priced above $37,000,” they said.
Analysts at Roth Capital highlighted “a busy day” for Tesla investors with Thursday also marking the court date for the Securities and Exchange’s contempt charges. The hearing stems from Chief Executive Elon Musk’s tweets about annual production targets for Tesla in light of last year’s settlement with the SEC over Tesla’s going-private saga.
The analysts said they don’t expect any “draconian” measures from the court that would punish Tesla’s shareholders, but viewed the “entire process as self inflicted by Musk, reckless, and unnecessary.” Another fine would have no impact, they said.
Analysts at RBC Capital questioned Tesla’s assurances that, while first-quarter earnings will suffer from the delivery shortcomings, it ended the quarter “with ’sufficient’ cash on hand.”
“We expect a sizeable cash burn in (the first quarter.) We estimate that the vehicles in transit alone could be a ~$500mm working capital use,” said the RBC analysts, led by Joseph Spak.
Analysts at Deutsche Bank struck a somewhat more optimistic tone.
“With standard range versions being rolled out in the U.S. and bottleneck addressed overseas, we believe Model 3 deliveries will ramp up materially in the quarters ahead, but investors are unlikely to give Tesla credit for them until there is clarity on their mix and gross margin profile.”
Investors are likely to turn their focus to Tesla’s April 19 investor day, the Deutsche Bank analysts, led by Emmanuel Rosner, said in a note.
Tesla has vowed to provide a “deep dive” into its self-driving software and hardware, including its in-house self-driving computer.
Tesla shares have lost nearly 7% in the past 12 months, and are down 19% so far this year. That contrasts with gains of 9% and 15% for the S&P 500 index
in the same time periods.
The company’s bonds also took a beating. The 5.300% notes that mature in August of 2025 were last trading at 85.688 cents on the dollar, or at a yield spread of 592 basis points over Treasurys, a full 46 basis points wider on the day, according to MarketAxess.