Something interesting -- and possibly alarming -- is happening with Tesla stock

Tesla Store EntranceTeslaA Tesla store.

Investing in Tesla isn’t for the weak of will.

Shares in the all-electric automaker tend to be volatile, and on Wall Street there’s a chasm between the bulls and the bears as far as price-targets go. Some have seen the stock plunging below $100, while other has argued that it could touch $500.

Through all this, Tesla has amassed a $30 billion market cap and with shares now trading around $200, the company has certainly rewarded early investors who bought after the 2010 IPO, when the stock traded for around $20.

It’s worth it to have a look at Tesla’s stock charts from time to time, and with 2016 coming to a close, now is as good moment.

Here’s a chart of the stock price over the past five years:

Shares really took off in 2013, and with some swoons along the way, peaked in fall of 2014. There was then a slide, followed by a recovery, then a big dip in 2015 before another recovery. Over the full five-year period, the return has been 525%.

Here’s a chart of the past year:

What we’ve been seeing since Tesla started to push back toward it’s all-time highs is a steady erosion, a grinding decline. The plunge hasn’t happened — as it did in early 2016.

And the stage isn’t really set for a big drop-off. Tesla posted a profit in the third-quarter, albeit a qualified one because it sold a lot of ZEV credits. The carmaker looks as if it’s on track to achieving the low-end of its 2016 guidance for vehicle deliveries, around 80,000. The fourth quarter could be unprofitable, but Tesla’s cash burn actually seems to be slowing down as it ramps up production.

The alarming part

That all sounds good, unless you expect Tesla to surge back from a slide, as it did in 2015. That might not happen, as Tesla doesn’t have a new product launch — the Model 3 mass-market vehicle — until late 2017, with significant deliveries not arriving until 2018.

That means Tesla could be finding a level, with trading clustered around $200. Volatility could also ease, making the Tesla trade on both the short and the long side less exciting. But this could all vindicate what some analysts have argued is a sort of speed limit on Tesla’s near-term growth: the future is already priced into the stock, so buying now doesn’t present much upside, at least not right away.

The weird thing about Tesla is that for its entire history as public company, it’s only experienced two clearly “mellow” periods: right after the IPO, when its went nowhere; and … maybe … now, into early-to-mid 2017. To my eye, this latest low-key episode correlates with Tesla becoming more of a “normal” car company; the biggest challenge is to, you know, build the cars.

But that’s a boring big challenge. And without some kind of Trumpian apocalypse on the horizon, with the market for electric car completely collapsing, that boredom could persist for a while.

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