Investor's Corner

Tesla addresses reports that it’s asking suppliers for refunds

Amidst a steep dive in its stock’s price during Monday’s trading session, falling as much as 6% from Friday’s close, Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) has issued a statement responding to a report suggesting that the company was asking refunds from suppliers in order to help it turn a profit. In response to the article posted by the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, Tesla noted that negotiations are standard practice for procurement.

“Negotiation is a standard part of the procurement process, and now that we’re in a stronger position with Model 3 production ramping, it is a good time to improve our competitive advantage in this area. We’re focused on reaching a more sustainable long-term cost basis, not just finding one-time reductions for this quarter, and that’s good for Tesla, our shareholders, and our suppliers who will also benefit from our increasing production volume and future growth opportunities.

“We asked fewer than ten suppliers for a reduction in total CapEx project spend for long-term projects that began in 2016 but are still not complete, and any changes with these suppliers would improve our future cash flows, but not impact our ability to achieve profitability in Q3. The remainder of our discussions with suppliers are entirely focused on future parts price and design or process changes that will help us lower fundamental costs rather than prior period adjustments of CapEx projects. This is the right thing to do.”

The Wall Street Journal article was based on a memo from the electric car maker asking a supplier to return what is reportedly a meaningful amount of money on its payments since 2016. The memo further noted that all Tesla suppliers are being asked to help the company reach profitability.  The report was received with much reservation from Tesla’s critics, many of whom raised further questions about Tesla’s cash position.

In a note to clients, Citi Investment Research analyst Itay Michaeli stated that Tesla’s refund requests to its suppliers gave the impression that the negotiations were essential to the company’s continued operations. CFRA senior equity analyst Efraim Levy further stated that this is the first time he has encountered something like Tesla’s request.

“I haven’t heard of this being done before, and I’ve been following the industry for 20 years. It sounds like something that happens when you’re struggling,” he said

Elon Musk responded to the report on Twitter, stating that only costs that apply to Q3 2018 and beyond would be counted in the negotiations with the suppliers. Musk further added that “it would not be correct” to apply historical cost savings to the current quarter. Despite Musk’s explanation, Tesla started Monday’s trading on the negative, hitting as low as $293.57 per share after the opening bell. The company’s stock price has leveled out as of writing, with TSLA trading down 2.95% at $304.33 per share.

Tesla might have already reached its target of producing 5,000 Model 3 per week by the end of Q2, but doubts nonetheless remain about the company’s capability to sustain its optimal rate of production. With the phase-out period of its vehicles’ $7,500 federal tax credit underway, Tesla is engaged in an initiative to deliver as many Model 3 to customers as possible.

Disclosure: I have no ownership in shares of TSLA and have no plans to initiate any positions within 72 hours.

Tesla addresses reports that it’s asking suppliers for refunds
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