Here we go again. Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) is back near all-time highs. TSLA stock fell earlier this month after a Q1 report that looked a touch weak. But Tesla stock didn’t stay down for long, gaining 10% over the past few sessions.
That’s bad news for those short TSLA stock — at least those not nimble enough to cover after earnings. And, there are a lot of traders short Tesla stock: 26% of the float is sold short at the moment.
That’s a poor decision right now, too. While Tesla has its concerns — valuation and competition chief among them — they simply aren’t enough to support a short case for Tesla stock.
In fact, shorting TSLA stock breaks a number of the cardinal rules of shorting stocks in general, and investors should remember that those rules exist for a reason.
Rule #1: Don’t Fight the Tape
This rule is somewhat maddening, as it seems to imply that stocks that are going up will, or should, continue to go up. That’s essentially an investing version of the “gambler’s fallacy.”
But, there’s still some truth to it. Most successful short-sellers don’t try to “top-tick” a stock. Rather, they’d prefer to let a stock crest and then enter, giving up modest potential profits in exchange for having the investing herd on their side. (To be fair, it’s possible some Tesla stock shorts saw the post-earnings decline as this type of scenario, which it hasn’t been so far.)
As far as Tesla stock goes, it’s very obvious at this point that there is a committed base of analysts and shareholders behind the stock. Any TSLA stock short is fighting that group at the moment — and for the foreseeable future.
Obviously, those TSLA supporters could be wrong. But, when they realize they are wrong is important, too. The longer that takes, the more pain a Tesla short feels.
Rule #2: A Good Short Needs a Catalyst
That leads to the second — and biggest — problem with a Tesla short. There’s no catalyst to the downside on the horizon.
The bullish argument for Tesla stock is based on what happens not next quarter or next year, but in the next decade and beyond. TSLA stock bulls see the company as nothing less than a revolutionary force. Analysts are basing valuation on modeled earnings and cash flow many years out.
Those bulls could be wrong. In fact, I’ve tried to remind them that some humility is a good thing. Competition will be fierce from Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) and General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) to Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL). Political and regulatory decisions will have a major impact. The future is unknowable; there are myriad ways the Tesla story could play out.
But, even if the bulls are wrong, they won’t know that for years. That does little for a Tesla short in 2017. As long as the narrative of Tesla’s out-year profit potential exists, it’s going to be difficult for TSLA stock to come crashing back to Earth.
So, a short of TSLA stock has a real catalyst problem, but what changes the story? Production targets for the Model 3 seem reasonable, with first-half guidance likely to be met after Q1 commentary. SolarCity’s new roof tiles have been launched. Even early results from that initiative won’t be clear until next year.
Tesla shorts may be right long-term. But, this year, a TSLA short only works if the confidence behind the company changes. Yet, there’s very little on the horizon that has the potential to impact that confidence. That leaves Tesla shorts simply fighting the tide alone, with little help.
Rule #3: Don’t Short Good Management
It’s far from guaranteed that Tesla CEO Elon Musk is a great manager — or even a good manager. Tesla still has a long way to go. Many shareholders were displeased with the acquisition of SolarCity, particularly given that Musk was the largest shareholder in that money-losing business. Tesla’s automotive timelines haven’t always been met. And, some regulatory experts have questioned Musk’s use of the Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) platform.
But, Musk is the perfect manager for Tesla right now. He’s a great champion for Tesla stock. His external involvements with SpaceX, Hyperloop and artificial intelligence give him the imprimatur of a deep, big, innovative thinker. And, whatever his faults, the fact remains that he has created a company now worth more than Ford or GM.
Rule #4: A Short Must Have a Clear Thesis
There simply isn’t a clear thesis to short Tesla stock right now. An investor might believe that TSLA stock is overvalued. But, that’s not a short case. There needs to be a material catalyst that can change the story and the sentiment surrounding the stock, and right now there isn’t one.
The long-term potential is intact. Near-term execution has been good enough. Competitors appear behind Tesla at the moment, and it’s highly unlikely that will change in the near future.
TSLA might be overvalued. But that’s not the same thing as saying Tesla stock is a good short. It isn’t — at least not yet.
As of this writing, Vince Martin did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.