There's a new Tesla bear on Wall Street

He’s late to the party, but Cowen and Company analyst Jeffrey Osborne has initiated coverage of Tesla, with an initial underperform rating and a bearish $160 target price.

The stock is now trading around $200, experiencing one of its reliable market swoons after rising to the $230 range in August.

“The company, while fundamentally well positioned for the long term, has a material amount of execution risk over the next 12 to 18 months,” Osborne wrote in a lengthy research report published Thursday.

“The SolarCity acquisition only adds an additional layer of complexity at a crucial time when the company should be focused on the Gigafactory ramp and Model 3 launch.”

The analysts then delved into everything a prospective investor might want to know about Tesla, circa September 2016.

On balance, Osborne falls into the cautiously optimistic camp when it comes to the startup electric automaker. He and his team at Cowen are neither hyper-bullish, but nor are the grimly bearish. The target price is at the low end of what Wall Street bears have typically offered for Tesla, but Osborne’s thesis is that Tesla is facing large and complicated risks and challenges over the next year and half.

During this critical time for Elon Musk and his company, the difficulty of bringing a new vehicle — the Model 3 mass-market car — getting the Gigafactory battery facility online, merging with Solar City, all while supporting sales of the Model S sedan and the Model X SUV will combine to drag Tesla’s value down.

“A lot more that can go wrong”

“In the 12-month time frame our rating contemplates, we see Tesla as a great company led by a true visionary, but must acknowledge the asymmetric risk/reward profile for the stock at the market’s current valuation,” Osborne wrote.

“Simply, we see a lot more that can go wrong than can go right as the company transitions into Mr. Musk’s greater vision.”

It’s actually good to observe an analyst entering the fray who gives Tesla credit for its considerable accomplishments while also holding the company’s feet to fire on its current rather tricky business situation.

Osborne is also coming in at the right time to be bearish. Tesla’s pattern over the past two years has been to establish very ambitious vehicle delivery targets for the second half and to go like hell in the fourth quarter to slip in at the low end of its guidance (80,000 to 90,000 vehicles in 2016).

The stock has tended to suffer during this period, as scepticism breaks out over a $30 billion market cap company with a lot of potential future growth, but also gigantic capital needs, limited prospects for sustained profits in the near term, and a pesky inability to attend to its core business: building cars.

Call it the “Tesla trade,” and get ready to see it played out over the next four months and into early 2017.

Tesla shares were down slightly in pre-market trading on Thursday, to $199, after closing at $202 on Wednesday.

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