Tesla announced it lost more money in the fourth quarter of 2015 than it lost in all of four quarters of 2014 — $320 million compared with $294 million – and its stock rose 9%.
In fact, Tesla lost $889 million on revenue of $4 billion for the full year compared with a loss of $294 million on revenue of $3.2 billion in 2014 on an unadjusted basis. Tesla’s adjusted full-year revenue of $5.29 billion was slightly below analysts’ forecast of $5.38 billion.
Despite the annual loss coming in three times higher, investors were happy for three reasons.
First, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk said the company would debut the long-awaited Model 3, Tesla’s affordable EV at $35,000, in late March 2017 with production expected to begin at the end of the year. He brushed off concerns about the fact that the Chevrolet Bolt, which essentially matches the expected performance of the Model 3, will arrive nearly a full year earlier than Tesla’s “entry-level” model.
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He noted that Model S sedan sales rose in 2015 in spite of the fact that luxury competitors like the Audi A7 and Lexus LS slid.
“Tesla is approximately doubling its cumulative sales every year. I think that’s pretty exciting and unusual,” Musk said during a conference call with analysts and media.
Second, he predicted the company would be cash-positive this year. It would the first time since the company’s creation in 2003 that it will generate a profit despite a planned investment of $1.5 billion in additional production capacity at its plant in Fremont, California, and new cell production at its battery factory in Nevada.
Musk added the company plans to open 80 additional service and retail centers and 300 fast-charging Supercharger stations. Additionally, Musk believes the company’s financial results are better than conventional accounting shows.
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Automakers, and companies in general, use adjusted financial figures. Musk claims those numbers do not reflect Tesla’s true performance because accounting rules limit how it records revenue for leases.
On an adjusted basis, the company lost $2.30 per share for the year, missing Wall Street’s estimate of a $1.25 per-share loss, according to FactSet. Its fourth-quarter loss of 87 cents also far surpassed Wall Street’s estimate of a 16-cent loss.
And last but not least: Tesla’s building more cars. It built 50,000 vehicles last year and expects to build as many as 90,000 in 2016. The company struggled with Model X production early in the year, but overcame several issues, including problems with the SUV’s chrome door strips and large front window. He said the company added too many new features at once to the X.
“There was some hubris there, with the X,” Musk said. “The net result is that the Model X is an amazing car. I honestly think it’s the best car ever. I’m not sure anyone will make a car like this again. I’m not sure Tesla will make a car like this again.”
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While all this news got investors excited about the stock and it rose to $157 a share, it is down 40% from its 12-month high.