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Tesla remains volatile despite international Model 3 ramp, analysts’ optimistic outlook for 2019

Tesla stock (NASDAQ:TSLA) saw a steep, over 12% dive on Friday amidst news of a new round of layoffs and Elon Musk’s rather cautious tone about the company’s profitability in the fourth quarter and Q1 2019. As trading opened on Tuesday, TSLA stock seemed as volatile as ever, briefly showing some recovery after the opening bell before dipping into the red soon after.

In a way, the behavior of Tesla stock on Friday (and this Tuesday as of writing) was a bit strange. Not long after the company shared Elon Musk’s email explaining his reasons behind the 7% layoffs, after all, a number of Wall Street analysts covering the electric car maker expressed an optimistic view on Tesla, particularly as the company is now aiming to start breaching the international market with the Model 3, its most disruptive vehicle to date.

During a segment on CNBC’s Squawk Box, for one, Oppenheimer senior research analyst Colin Rusch, who has a $418 price target on the company, noted that Tesla’s recent job cuts were unsurprising and a likely sign of optimization.

“It’s not a huge surprise to see this. This looks to us like a mix of a proactive move in terms of cutting costs, … but also a bit of cleanup on the kind of massive push to get the Model 3 out this year. You never want to see a growth company cutting staff like this, but we’re not overly concerned,” Rusch said.

In a note to investors, Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois, who has a $450 price target on TSLA, stated that the company’s reduced workforce suggests breakthroughs in productivity.

“Reducing headcount also suggests productivity gains. This is, in our view, (is) consistent with slower growth rates but mostly the scope to improve productivity and flow that we identified during our visit to the Fremont plant mid-November 2018,” the analyst said.

Baird analyst Ben Kallo, a longtime TSLA bull with a price target of $465 per share, noted that cost management would be crucial this 2019 as “Tesla transitions to its next phase of growth.” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives, who has a price target of $440 per share, stated that “Tesla will be able to emerge from the next 12 to 18 months” as an electric car maker that is stronger and more profitable.

Canaccord Genuity analyst Jed Dorsheimer, who has a $323 price target on TSLA, was more pronounced in his optimism for the company, stating that with the recent job cuts, “Tesla’s business is now set up for a more auspicious 2019.” Consumer Edge analyst Derek Glynn, who has a $350 price target on Tesla, noted that Elon Musk’s recent email suggested that “management is focused on achieving profitability each quarter after years of operating at significant losses.”

Former Tesla board member Steve Westly also took a similar stance, stating that the 7% job cuts are a sign that Elon Musk and Tesla’s management are taking the initiative to “right-size” the company and optimize it its more challenging, more ambitious future endeavors. This, according to Westly, gives the company a notable edge in the electric vehicle market.

“He is moving faster than anybody else, going global faster than anybody else, and today, Tesla is essentially the iPhone of the electric-car market. They’ve won the North American premium market race. The challenge now is to win the mass market, to go international. I think he is preparing the company to do that. I wouldn’t bet against him,” the former Tesla board member said.

That said, not everyone on Wall Street believes that Tesla’s recent job cuts bode well for the company. Citigroup analyst Itay Michaeli, who has a $284 price target on TSLA, mentioned in a note that the electric car maker’s lowered Q4 2018 guidance and 7% job cuts support the bear argument that the company’s stellar Q3 2018 results “weren’t sustainable.”

For now, Tesla is attempting to start deliveries of the Model 3 to two key international markets — Europe and China. Both territories present an important opportunity for the electric car maker, considering that Europe’s midsize sedan market is roughly twice as large as the United States.’ China’s electric car market, on the other hand, is the largest in the world. With Gigafactory 3 allowing Tesla to produce affordable variants of the Model 3 for the local market, the company’s electric sedan could prove to be a success in China.

As for Tesla’s upcoming competition this year, Oppenheimer analyst Colin Rusch notes that legacy automakers have some serious catching up to do.

“Let’s get realistic about what the competition looks like. I mean, people have been very excited about some of the vehicles coming out in 2018. One, those cars have been delayed. Two, the products haven’t been as exciting as people anticipated. We were just at the Detroit Auto Show this week, and we saw, you know, around ten EVs on the show floor, and none of them were particularly exciting,” the analyst said.

As of writing, Tesla stock is trading -1.04% at $299.12 per share.

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

Tesla remains volatile despite international Model 3 ramp, analysts’ optimistic outlook for 2019
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