Tesla has the makings of a controversial stock. It’s a company with products that are loved by its users and hated by its skeptics, and it’s led by a man that’s both admired by his supporters and loathed by his critics. It was then no surprise when Tesla became one of the most-shorted companies in the market. But amidst Tesla’s rise last year and the release of its Q1 2021 vehicle production and delivery report, it appears that TSLA bears, or at least a good number of them, are starting to go extinct.
A good overview of how a company is perceived could be found in the overall stance of analysts covering the stock. Among the 41 analysts covering TSLA today, 15 have a “Buy” rating, 14 maintain a “Hold” rating, and 12 have a “Sell” rating, as per data from Bloomberg. This suggests that Tesla remains quite polarizing, as Buy ratings typically outnumber Sell ratings 10-to-1 for stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
The same is true for TSLA’s price targets. Tesla’s bull-bear spread between its highest price target ($1,036) and its lowest ($135) stands at $901, or about 133% of the current $661.75 stock price. In the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the average bull-bear spread for stocks is less than 50%. While Tesla has maintained its polarizing nature in the market, however, there is one metric that suggests that a TSLA bear exodus is taking place.
There was a time not too long ago when Tesla’s short-interest ratio was about 25%, which meant that one in every four shares was borrowed and sold by investors betting on the company to fail. Such a short-interest ratio was insane, as the average for stocks in the S&P 500 is just about 3%. Today, this ratio stands at just about 6%, which is still higher than average but significantly lower than its figures three years ago.
As noted in a Barron’s report, there is an important mitigating factor in Tesla’s short-interest ratio, in the form of hundreds of millions in convertible bonds outstanding, most of which were issued long ago and are capable of being converted into TSLA stock at around $65 per share. Considering that Tesla stock is worth more than 10x that amount today, the convertible bonds have rallied over 500% over the past year.
While this is great for convertible bond holders, numerous bond investors are actually not interested in Tesla stock. Instead, some are convertible arbitrage investors, who buy convertible bonds and short the underlying stock. This way, the arbitrage trader is able to lock in a notable bond yield. S3 Partners managing director of predictive analytics Ihor Dusaniwsky has noted that the bonds are “mostly held by hedge funds.” He also estimates that about half of Tesla’s current short interest might be part of a convertible arbitrage strategy.
If the S3 Partners’ executive’s estimates are accurate, it would suggest that about 22 million Tesla shares are sold short, or about 2.9% of TSLA stock. This number is substantial, but it is small compared to the 200 million TSLA shares sold short back in 2019. This does not mean to say that Tesla bears have entirely given up, of course, as some will likely remain with their short position for a long time to come. However, the declining number of TSLA shares that are sold short does suggest that bears, or at least a good number of them, may be throwing in the towel.
Former Goldman Sachs Asset Management CIO Gary Black has noted that the declining number of TSLA bears may be due to the fact that some critical bearish arguments against Tesla are being soundly debunked. One of these is the notion that Tesla’s share of the EV market will get drastically smaller as soon as other automakers enter the electric car segment. Despite the noise by proponents of this thesis, the opposite has been true, as more and more car buyers tend to leave gas-powered vehicles–not other electric cars like Tesla–when they purchase EVs made by other automakers.
Disclaimer: I am long TSLA
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