- For yet another quarter, Tesla is expected to post an enormous loss.
- The markets appear to be pricing this in, so Wall Street will be looking more closely at Tesla’s revenue growth.
- Investors should also be prepared from the usual Elon Musk song-and-dance about new products and future production targets, as well as a few wildcards.
Tesla will report first-quarter earnings on Wednesday after the markets close. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect a loss of $US3.40 per share, on revenue of $US3.32 billion.
Tesla’s pattern for the past few quarters has been to meet or even beat expectations on the topline while losing more money than anticipated. The stock is trading at about $US295 on Tuesday and has risen almost 20% in the past month, so the markets aren’t really telegraphing any surprises.
So on Wednesday, look for Tesla to report a wider-than-expected loss, an understandable outcome as the carmaker spends and spends and spends some more to get production of its troubled Model 3 vehicle on track. (Also be prepared for a sale of Zero-Emission Vehicle, or ZEV, credits – a tactic that Tesla justifiably has used in the past mitigate losses and even, in Q3 of 2016, post a profit.)
Tesla has never managed a yearly profit, and given what it’s dealing with now on Model 3, making money from its operations in Q1 would be a stunning reversal. The theme is more likely to be an accelerated cash burn from Q4 of 2018, when Tesla effectively took a breather on Model 3 assembly. With production now in the 2,000-per-week ballpark, the company should be back to spending money and lots of it.
In this context, revenue takes on more importance. Wall Street will be looking to see if it’s still trending up, on the assumption that if Tesla can achieve its production targets for Model 3 – 5,000 units per week by the end of June – revenue will really take off.
That’s the snapshot of what to expects on the financials. It sort of looks like a holding pattern at this juncture.
So investors will focus their attention on some other stuff:
Model 3 and ‘production hell’ – and an admission of hubris on automation
Musk had a very big idea about reinventing auto manufacturing for the 21st century, replacing human labour with high-speed robots. He called it the “machine the builds the machine.” It sounded great, but it didn’t work for the Model 3. Not that it was entirely supposed to – Tesla was testing the idea on its Model 3 assembly line in California and at its battery factory in Nevada.
The real action should have arrived with a subsequent Tesla vehicle, probably the Model Y SUV, a smaller crossover than the current Model X. Unless Tesla manufactures the Model Y, slated to launch by 2020, on the same line as the Model 3, a new plant is in order, so Musk could start with a clean slate.
Musk already admitted that Tesla got ahead of itself on this front and is going back to traditional manufacturing to get the Model 3 up to speed. To his credit, Musk is good an admitting and explaining his mistakes, so be prepared for some illuminating postgame on Wednesday.
Here’s something to wonder about, however: Has the Model 3 achieved a steady state of around 2,000 units per week in production – or does Tesla just have the ability to surge to that level? An important question, as 3,000 more units in weekly manufacture need to arrive in the next three months.
New products – especially the Model Y SUV
Speaking of the Model Y, if Tesla doesn’t show a vehicle design in the next few months, producing actual cars in 2019 is going to be challenging. There’s some speculation in the industry that Musk could provide insight on timing this week.
And speaking of new factories, the Chinese government recently announced the electric-vehicles makers will almost immediately be about to build their own plants in the country, ending decades of joint-venture rules. Musk has complained about the bog import taxes Tesla has to pay in China, so he might provide some colour on where the company’s next factory will be located.
Wildcard: Somebody leaving the company
Tesla has something of an earnings-call tradition of announcing that people are leaving the company. Several years ago, then-CEO Deepak Ahuja announced his retirement, replaced by ex-Googler Jason Wheeler. Then, Wheeler’s departure – and Ahuja’s return – was announced a year later. And in the midst of the Q4 call in February, Musk informed investors that John McNeill, Tesla’s president of global sales and service, was departing to be COO of Lyft.
There’s a certain amount of executive chaos at Tesla these days, what with Musk taking over supervision of Model 3 and going back to sleeping at his factory, so it won’t be a shock if a leader exits the building and Musk talks about it on Wednesday.
Of course, Musk could stun the world and announce a bigger change – and I don’t mean resigning as CEO, given that he just signed on for a massive new pay package that requires a $US650-billion future market cap. I mean a giving up his duties as chairman of the Tesla board, in response to a small shareholder who’s agitating for the action.
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