MONEY MANAGER: Why I Decided To Buy Tesla When The Rest Of Wall Street Said ‘Sell’

Cole Wilcox, Longboard Asset Management

Tesla’s meteoric rise in the last 10 days has been a surprise to most of Wall Street. In the last 2 days alone the stock is up 40% after a smashing earnings report.

The shorts are white-knuckled and praying.

The thing is, not every money manager bought into their story. One of those sceptics was Cole Wilcox, CEO of Longboard Asset Management. Based in Phoenix, Wilcox dropped out of school to become a stockbroker and started his first hedge fund when he was 21.

He says his firm trades every asset under the sun — currencies, commodities, what have you —but what ties them together is that Wilcox is looking for the next big thing. That’s why his firm is called Longboard — he’s trying to capture waves.

Tesla, he believes, is about to crest.

Business Insider ran a slide deck of Longboard’s long thesis before Tesla’s stock started scaring the bears back to their caves, so we contacted him to get more insight on how he saw what everyone else was missing.

His answer was actually pretty simple — he’s been watching the company from the ground for the last 10 years, waiting to see if CEO Elon Musk would do the unthinkable and become the man that would take electric vehicles mainstream.

“To be able to take an idea that every other company with massive resources —GM, Mercedes — no one has been able to do, and create a world class product on a pound for pound engineering basis, deliver that to market, create a customer base, a manufacturing base, sales, marketing, and to do that from scratch? You have no idea how difficult that is and the kind of management execution you have to have. You have to be a visionary.”

Elon Musk, he says, is a visionary and an underestimated marketing whiz.

Wall Street, says Wilcox, was reasoning by analogy — ‘because no one else could do it, Musk couldn’t do it either.

The Street was also paying too much attention to earnings reports, but earnings don’t mean as much when a company’s trying to grow something completely new. By the time Wall Street’s numbers look like a buy, you’re in the trade too late.

In fact, following Wall Street will always make you an average investor, says Wilcox. Consensus is by definition the average. To generate alpha, you have to do something completely different.

If you want to catch a wave before it crests, you have to do what Longboard did — you have to visit the company, you have to drive the car.

Tesla Factory
Tesla’s factory. Wilcox says the robots pick up parts one at a time and put the cars together like a human hand.

“Until you get behind the wheel of a Tesla is impossible to understand,” Wilcox told Business Insider. The car responds automatically. There’s no lag between when you turn the key, fire the engines, and get the wheels going. It’s a completely different driving experience. It’s an immediate response.

He says it’s like being in a cockpit of a plane.

This isn’t to say that Wilcox was putting money on Tesla from the beginning. He didn’t buy into the IPO.

A lot of things had to happen before would Longboard get into the trade — before Wilcox would start to believe that Tesla would be the company that would take electric vehicles (EV) mainstream.

To succeed, he reasoned, the company needed more than Musk’s talent. There were so many things that could go wrong that were beyond management’s control that what Tesla really needed was luck.

For example, Tesla acquired its 5.3 million square foot factory from Toyota and GM for a rock bottom price of $42 million, with $17 million thrown in for equipment. The New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant had shuttered in 2010, and Musk was there to pick it up.

But that isn’t what really sold Wilcox.

“The point at which I said ‘now is the time to be in this trade’ was immediately after you got information that showed they executed. They’re delivering cars… the marketplace globally is adopting this vehicle on a free market basis… The customers love it, they’re buying it. It’s like a chemical reaction, once the catalyst has been added it’s just going to keep going… it’s going to snowball.”

Wilcox saw that the company was going the way of Apple, designing gorgeous stores in high traffic locations and putting them next to brands like Louis Vuitton. Tesla was branding itself for tastemakers with money looking for the next great driving experience. He bought the company, when he saw that tastemakers bought that Tesla was the experience.

“One thing that I know about markets in general is that there’s only one winner. There’s only one Amazon, one Google… one company is going to have 80% of market share and the rest will be fighting for the other 20%,” said Wilcox. “That’s what Tesla is going to do, they’re setting the pace for what the EV market is going to be… no one’s going to buy anything else.”

So Longboard went in, and it went in big. Wilcox couldn’t disclose exact numbers, but his philosophy is that Wall Street gets into too many companies that don’t matter in the long run. He’d rather watch and wait than buy something he doesn’t believe in — but when he does believe he makes it count.

“I saw a homeless many in NYC staring at a Tesla driving at the street. When a homeless man is drooling over your vehicle you know you’ve got something.”

Fair enough.