Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) is finally a real car company. And Tesla stock will be in trouble until it starts trading like it.
Tesla delivered 95,356 cars during the second quarter and expects to deliver 400,000 for the year. Right now, TSLA has 15% of the U.S. luxury car market. Once its Shanghai factory ramps up, production will rise another 150,000 per year.
When all this was a glint in Elon Musk’s eye, five years ago, Tesla shares sold for $259 each. They open August 21 at $225.
Tesla stock is finally being valued as a real car company. Even profitable car companies like General Motors (NYSE:GM), are worth just a small percentage of their sales. Tesla is still valued at twice its 2018 revenue.
The result has been a great year for Tesla stock shorts. At the end of July almost 40 million Tesla shares were being borrowed and sold short. Tesla has 172 million shares outstanding.
Tesla’s Solar Fail
For investors, Tesla is strictly a car company. Total revenue from its batteries and solar panels represent just 7% of revenue. The batteries are doing great, especially as back-up power for commercial utilities. The solar panels are doing horribly.
Tesla paid $2.6 billion to get into this business in 2016, buying SolarCity — from his cousins. At the time, SolarCity was the U.S. leader in residential solar. Now it’s fourth, behind Sunrun (NASDAQ:RUN), Vivint Solar (NASDAQ:VLSR) and SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR).
Tesla is trying to juice up its market share with a rental program, starting at $50 per month for a 3.8 Mw system. The program is being offered in six states. It may do well in Connecticut, where electricity costs $23.35 per megawatt hour. It may do poorly in New Mexico where the cost is $12.21 per megawatt hour.
There are also “gotchas” that make this look more like an old-fashioned solar lease than a true rental, like a $1,500 charge to remove the panels. The quality may also be suspicious. Walmart (NYSE:WMT) is suing Tesla because panels on 7 of its stores caught fire. It wants Tesla to remove panels from 240 stores and pay damages.
Tesla stock’s Remaining Bulls
There remain Tesla bulls, like investor Ron Baron. He says 90 million cars are sold each year, meaning there’s still a huge addressable market. He says Tesla’s production costs are declining, and other carmakers are still slow-walking the move to electrics.
In markets that love Tesla, people really love Tesla. The Tesla Model 3 now has 46% of the near-luxury car market in California. In Norway Tesla has 70% of the electric market and diesel vehicle sales are down 95%. Tesla’s “secret master plan” from 2009 is working. Money from the high-end Tesla Roadster has gone into mass production of less-expensive models with a larger market. A pick-up truck and semi-trailer are on the way. People can, in theory, power their homes with Tesla solar cells and batteries.
But Tesla is still bleeding cash. Even after cutting its research and capital spending to industry norms, it lost $167 million on operations in the second quarter, a net loss under GAAP of $2.31 per share. It needs to increase that research budget to bring out promised new models, and it needs to increase capital spending to scale production.
The Bottom Line for Tesla
Tesla is changing the world but, like those solar companies mentioned earlier, it’s not making a ton of money while doing it.
Tesla may turn a small profit later this year because it has cut spending and is ramping up production. But it will be a small profit. To justify its $40.4 billion market cap, it must at some point make a large profit.
It’s nowhere near that, which is why the bears and shorts are having their day with it. At this point, Tesla stock would be better off trading like a car stock.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of the mystery thriller, The Reluctant Detective Finds Her Family, available at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned no shares in companies mentioned in this article.