I’ll get right into it — the dirty secret of Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) is that, despite all of the controversies and fanfare, TSLA stock has mostly been range-bound for the past three years.
If you see a price below $200 per share as a buy signal, and a price near $250 as a sell signal, or even a sign to go short, you have been making money off Elon Musk right along. The turns in the stock’s price are often sharp — it plunged from $240 to $150 about a year ago, then hit $250 again within two months — but they generally stay within the range.
At the opening price of about $213.44, then, Tesla is clearly in “meh” territory. An uptrend has been in place for a month now, but if you jump in you’re likely to see a reversal after a gain of about 10%.
What’s Up With TSLA Stock Now?
The main problem for Tesla remains what it has always been, scaling production to meet the stock price’s expectations.
For the third quarter in four for 2016, Tesla missed its production estimates, delivering just 22,200 cars. The original estimate for the year had been 80,000 to 90,000 cars. The final number was 76,230. That compares with 50,580 for 2015, so 2016 production showed a more than 50% increase.
Tesla continues to paint a rosy production picture, and CEO Elon Musk thinks it will deliver 800,000 cars next year. This will include the Model 3, a $35,000 unit on which 400,000 pre-orders (with $1,000 checks) were taken on its announcement.
The cars are certain to be cool. The question is whether there will be enough of them to show a profit and please Wall Street.
What If Musk Is Right?
The production shortfall sent the shares down about $4, but they should go right back up today as the company offers investors a tour of its Sparks, Nevada battery “gigafactory,” hosted by Musk himself. The Nevada factory supplies batteries for Tesla cars and stand-alone PowerWalls that can store electricity produced by SolarCity solar panels.
It is this production ramp-up that has both bulls and bears worried. If Tesla continues to fall short this year, the bears think the stock will collapse once and for all. If it comes close to its goals then, adding in the Supercharging centers (on which it’s finally going to start making money this year), the PowerWalls and the solar panels, the thought is the bulls may run again.
SolarCity, which Tesla formally acquired in November, was last year’s reason to worry. The concern was that the solar panel maker would drag the whole company down with it. Since oil prices are now rising, SolarCity should soon see positive margins, especially as it’s sold alongside other Tesla products, so that worry is passing.
But whenever a worry passes with Tesla, a new worry replaces it. Maybe if Musk’s production plans seem about to fail, he’ll buy SpaceX. Or, if they seem about to succeed, he’ll get a white Persian cat.
Tesla Is a Trade and a Tease
For analysts and reporters, Tesla is the gift that keeps on giving. In a black suit and blue tie world, Elon Musk and Tesla are a tie-dyed shirt. The story is always fun and always subject to change without notice.
But beneath the hype, and the talk of imminent catastrophe or unlimited profit, lies this truth. Musk is building a real company, but he may never let the stock get out of its trading range, because once Tesla accomplishes a goal he will find it loftier goal that will worry analysts about his sanity, and that of his investors.
Thus, if you’re going to get involved in Tesla shares, and I’m not recommending you do unless you like some manic-depression with your morning coffee, just watch the trading range. Get in when they’re bearish, get out when they’re bullish, and on days like today when it’s in-between, just have a laugh.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of the sci-fi novella Into the Cloud, available at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned no shares in companies mentioned in this article.