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Tesla’s Q3 results and Wall St’s reaction: When record deliveries is bad news

Tesla’s (NASDAQ:TSLA) third-quarter results set new production and vehicle delivery records for the electric car maker. With a total of 96,155 electric cars produced and about 97,000 delivered between July and September, as well as an update that revealed that the company achieved record net orders in Q3, Tesla’s results were objectively impressive.  

Yet, the market’s reaction to Tesla’s Q3 results was unforgiving. TSLA stock dipped over 4% in after-hours trading following the company’s release of its record third-quarter results. Bearish outlooks were shared by analysts covering the company once more, and questions about the demand for Tesla’s vehicles were rekindled. 

A key driver of this negative narrative was Tesla’s reported miss of Wall Street’s expectations, as analysts polled by FactSet had an average estimate of 99,000 deliveries for Q3 2019. It should be noted that this estimate did not represent the latest consensus numbers from the greater number of analysts covering the company prior to the release of the Q3 production and delivery results. 

FactSet usually utilizes about 10-12 analyst estimates to create a consensus, but over 20 analysts are covering Tesla. If one were to list the average estimates from 21 financial firms covering the electric car maker, one would see that Tesla’s “miss” might not really be a miss at all. In fact, it would appear that Tesla actually met Wall Street’s expectations. 

Among New Street, Baird, BAML, Nomura, CSFB, Macquarie, Bernstein, DB, Cowen, JPM, OpCo, CE, MS, UBS, Wolfe, JMP, Needham, ISI, RBC, Barclays, and Wedbush, the actual delivery estimates among analysts covering the company was 94,422 units, comprised of 76,831 Model 3 and 17,591 Model S and X. That’s more conservative compared to Tesla’s 97,000 deliveries, comprised of 79,600 Model 3 and 17,400 Model S and X. 

In a way, a good part of the bearish narrative that emerged following the release of the Q3 2019 results was due to a delivery target quoted in a leaked Elon Musk email that made the rounds just days before the end of the quarter. In the message, Musk rallied Tesla’s employees to push deliveries since the company has a chance of hitting 100,000 deliveries in Q3. That 100,000 delivery target was not official guidance from Tesla, but it seemed like it was practically considered as such by some analysts covering the electric car maker. 

With Tesla’s official delivery figures falling short of the 100,000 mark, it became pretty easy to frame the narrative as a disappointing quarter for deliveries. The numbers are anything but, especially considering that sales among veteran automakers in the United States experienced a difficult third quarter. 

Japanese carmakers Toyota and Honda, two of the US’ leading Asian automakers, suffered double-digit declines that were worse than analysts anticipated. Ford, the maker of America’s most popular vehicle, also saw its sales sink by 4.9% year-over-year. Compared to these, Tesla’s 16.2% year-over-year improvement in deliveries is quite impressive. 

In the aftermath of Tesla’s Q3 2019 results and the unfortunate reaction of the market, is Tesla completely blameless? Not completely. It is unfortunate, but executives such as Elon Musk must realize that at this point, Tesla is playing a game that is not exactly fair, as evidenced by the CEO’s informal delivery target seemingly being considered as guidance by some analysts. In this light, emails with lofty forecasts might prove unwise in the future, or stronger safeguards must at least be placed to ensure that no internal emails are leaked. 

As of writing, Tesla stock is trading -6.53% at $227.26 per share. 

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

Tesla’s Q3 results and Wall St’s reaction: When record deliveries is bad news
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