Analysts are getting nervous about Tesla

On Wednesday, Baird analyst Ben Kallo dropped his price target on Tesla to $US282 per share from $US335.

He joined Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas, who on Tuesday trimmed his target to $US450 from $US465, citing the high cost of the new Model X SUV and scepticism over Tesla’s ability to achieve its vehicle delivery forecasts.

The Model X launch was an important milestone which increases TSLA’s brand value and credibility,” he wrote.

“We are confident TSLA will be able to ramp Model X production, although the timing is uncertain, and with the current market backdrop we would like to keep some dry powder. With limited visibility to positive catalysts until the release of the Model III prototype [in early 2016], we are moving to the sidelines.”

Analysts who cover Tesla fall into three groups: bulls like Jonas, who think the stock will surge above its current level of $US231 and break through its previous trading high of $US291; bears like the analyst team at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, who expect the stock to slide below $US200; and middle-of-the-packers, like Kallo, who are starting to see limited upside for Elon Musk’s startup electric automaker.

At the moment, the analyst community looks to be digesting recent Tesla news and adopting a prudent course of action for the rest of the year. Earlier this year, Tesla trimmed its guidance on deliveries from 55,000 to a range of between 50-55,000. In the third quarter, it delivered under 12,000 vehicles, meaning that it has to crush it in the fourth quarter to get nearly 17,000 cars into customer hands.

The story for the last three month of 2014 is similar to 2015. Tesla shares had peaked in September and were sliding, but the arrival of the all-wheel-drive “D” version of the Model S in October briefly halted the decline.

The D arrived with much hoopla and was a bit of a surprise, in that Tesla hadn’t really released much detail about the “dual motor” configuration beforehand.

The Model X, by contrast, was both hotly anticipated and frequently delayed prior to its September 29 launch. It doesn’t look as if it’s going to drive a fourth-quarter bump, largely because it isn’t expected to add much to Tesla’s overall deliveries in 2015 and because the complexity of its manufacture is raising some questions about whether it will interfere with Model S production.

The dynamics are slightly different between 2014 and 2015, but the basic Tesla Q4 story is familiar. Analysts are getting nervous because it’s looking like Tesla will miss its deliveries goal, after dialling that goal back earlier this year.

Last year, however, it appeared to collectively dawn on Wall Street that Tesla’s narrative was changing from that of a go-go growth stock to that of a maturing car company.

This year, that realisation is firmly taking root. It’s not exactly a troubling development for Tesla — Musk & Co. aren’t pretending that they aren’t a car company, they have been relatively open about the challenges they’re facing, and the company isn’t in any immediate danger of failing — but it does mean that the jitters analysts are experiencing are probably justified.

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