Tesla is the new king-of-the-hill, after a week giving chase to long-time industry leader General Motors, the Silicon Valley upstart wound up narrowly squeaking into the lead, a nearly $51 billion market capitalization running just ahead of GM’s as trading on the New York Stock Exchange closed Monday afternoon.
Tesla had seemed poised for more than a week to take the lead, having already nudged past Ford Motor Co. earlier in the month. But Monday brought the Wall Street equivalent of a close horse race, GM and Tesla trading the lead almost by the hour. Finally, as the bell range, the EV maker had a closing stock price of $312.39, a $9.85 gain for the day, leaving it valued at $50.95 billion, while GM closed up $0.26 a share, at $33.97, with a market cap of $50.89 billion.
The surge in Tesla’s market performance comes at a critical time for the Silicon Valley automaker, which little more than a month ago had warned its finances were “on the edge” as it continued its costly investment in the launch of the new Model 3. The midsize electric vehicle, Tesla’s first priced by the mainstream, is set to go into production in July.
“It’s one of the strangest things I have ever seen,” said analyst David Sullivan, of AutoPacific Inc., “Wall Street being patient and rewarding a company that keeps losing money, quarter after quarter.”
Sullivan wasn’t the only surprised by Tesla’s April run-up. In New York for a preview of the annual auto show there, Ford President Joe Hinrichs said he couldn’t understand investors who normally put a premium on “a solid cash flow…like ours.”
(Tesla’s market value surpasses Ford’s. Click Here for the story.)
Indeed, the market had seemingly turned against Tesla when, in late February, it reported that it lost $121.3 million, or 78 cents a share, during the final quarter of 2016 – the automaker falling into the red during all but two quarters since it went public. Compounding investors’ concerns: Tesla CEO Elon Musk warned that his company was “on the edge” and running short of the capital it needed to bring critical new product to market.
Tesla stock was trading under $250 in the wake of that Q1 report and a number of observers had turned sour, Goldman Sachs analyst David Tamberrino downgrading the maker’s stock from “neutral” to “sell.”
As recently as last week, CFRA’s Efraim Levy continued to warn investors away, insisting “TSLA’s rich valuation concerns us.”
For his part, Musk gave skeptics the razz in a tweet when Tesla topped Ford. Pointing to those who were betting on a slump, he wrote, “Stormy weather in Shortville.”
(Click Here for details about Tesla’s Q1 production and sales record.)
Tesla did get a boost when it raised more money than expected — about $1.4 billion — from a recent stock offering. And, it turned out, Tencent Holdings, was one of the backers, the big Chinese investment firm subsequently reporting it had taken a 10% stake in Tesla.
Meanwhile, Tesla got another lift when it reported earlier this month that first quarter sales and production both reached record levels, though it still lags behind any of the traditional manufacturers. GM sold about 10 million vehicles last year, which works out to about 250% more vehicles each week than the 76,000 Models S and X battery vehicles Tesla moved in all 2016.
Of course, the real focus for investors is what happens once the Model 3 goes to market. CEO Musk has forecast sales will climb to 500,000 in 2018 – most of that from the small electric vehicle – and that it will grow to 1 million by 2020.
He has also announced plans for other new products, notably the Model Y, a compact crossover-utility vehicle based on the same architecture as the Model 3.
Of course, the challenge will be to deliver on plan. Tesla has yet to launch any product on schedule, the Model X running two years behind and then suffering serious quality problems that led influential Consumer Reports to warn potential buyers to beware.
But caution seems to have been thrown to the wind by Tesla investors.
Analyst Alexander Potter, of Piper Jaffray, on Monday issued a note to investors suggesting that Tesla is having a “captivating impact on consumers and shareholders alike. He upgraded his own advisory from “neutral” to “overweight,” raising his target for TSLA shares to $368 from $223.
(Will the Tesla Model 3 be the safest car ever? That’s what one analyst is predicting. Click Here to find out why.)