Investor's Corner

Tesla (TSLA) gets a “sell” rating by Goldman Sachs amid Model 3 production ramp concerns

Goldman Sachs has issued a new research note to investors changing its recommendation of Tesla (TSLA) stock from a “neutral” rating to “sell”. The firm lowered its target price for the stock to $185 from $190. Tesla shares fell 5% to $244 following the note from analyst David Tamberrino.

Tamberrino based his latest assessment on several factors, including an ongoing debate in the financial community about whether Tesla can swallow its merger with SolarCity without getting indigestion. But the number one thing on analysts’ minds is whether Tesla will in fact begin volume production of the Model 3 in 2017 as promised.

“We believe the Model 3 will have a more subdued launch curve than the company is targeting as some suppliers have expressed concern around final designs not being locked down,” Tamberrino wrote. “As a result, we expect the company to achieve mass market volumes (i.e., above 100k annualized run-rate) in 4Q18 vs. Tesla’s target of 4Q17.”

Some of that angst is based on Tesla’s rather dismal record of getting products to market on time in the past, particularly the Model X, which had a long and painful gestation period. Some of it is based on those rumblings from Model 3 suppliers. And some of it is based on the idea that after such a run-up (Tesla is up 50% since before the SolarCity acquisition) a certain amount of profit taking is to be expected.

Tamberrino concludes his research note with this observation. “Further, as we break down the componentry costs for Tesla’s vehicles, we find that the Model 3 should contribute negative operating margins until the company can break the 100k per year unit mark (we forecast in 2019) and/or lower battery cost to $100/kWh (we currently forecast this to occur by 2020E), even at an average price of $45k – which we assume is the likely selling price (above the $35k base) given the technology and hardware packages for the vehicle.”

Such doubts and fears are entirely appropriate. Until today’s correction, Tesla had a market capitalization close to that of Ford Motor Company. That is pretty heady territory for a start-up that has yet to sell more than 85,000 cars in a year compared to the millions of vehicles that roll off Ford’s assembly lines.

Elon says Tesla will be one of the largest corporations in the world someday and will have a market cap equal to or greater than Apple. That may turn out to be true. But in the meantime, much money will be made and much will be lost as investors try to time the peaks and valleys of Tesla’s wildly gyrating stock price.

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