Tesla's second-quarter earnings are expected to be terrifyingly bad, but it likely won't send stock crashing — here's why

Larry Busacca / Getty Images for The New York TimesTesla CEO Elon Musk.
  • Tesla will report second-quarter earnings next week, and they’re expected to be as bad as first-quarter earnings.
  • Tesla is also burning cash at a furious rate, leading short-sellers to intensify their pressure on the company.
  • However, Tesla’s stock has held up – dismal Q2 earnings probably won’t cause it to crash.

Estimates vary, but when Tesla reports second-quarter earnings next week, the outcome should be ugly. The carnage could match or exceed the first quarter, when Tesla lost $US3.35 per share, with revenue of $US3.41 billion.

The second-quarter was when, after earnings were announced and the markets noted that they weren’t as bad as expected – Wall Street figured on a loss of $US3.42 per share –Musk flipped out on a couple of analysts and sent the stock spiraling downward.

But here’s the thing: right after first-quarter earnings broke, Tesla’s stock basically didn’t do anything until the Elon show started. I felt sort of vindicated at the time because I thought the first-quarter would actually be kind of blah for the market: Yep, Tesla lost a ton of money, again, but we know why.

To overuse an already overused phrase, the negative news was priced in.

So here we are again, three months later, and Tesla is actually up about 4% – not solidly above $US300, but not below it, either. True, we’re miles from the run to nearly $US400 that markets witnessed in 2017. But on balance, that was an irrational surge, particularly given that Tesla didn’t crash into its problems with its Model 3 rollout until late in the year.

So the scenario is pretty much the same as far as the stock price goes. Earnings will be objectively terrifying, but with just a few days to go before Tesla reports, shares have hung in there and Tesla’s market cap, at around $US50 billion, remains higher than Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ and Ford’s.

My bold prediction: If you’re expected Tesla to nose-dive next week, you’ll be disappointed. The company will absorb the bad news. Here’s why:


Revenue, revenue, revenue.

At the same time that literally nobody invested in Tesla expects a profitable second-quarter – and many of those bullish investors might not expect a profit in 2018, despite Musk’s promises – the simple fact that Tesla is building and selling thousands more cars since the end of last year means that topline revenue is staged for takeoff.

True, Tesla has lost staggering amounts of money and could easily spend itself to a zero cash balance this year.

But the company has also reliably grown its revenue by about $US200 million per quarter for a while now.

That pace should accelerate in the second half of 2018 and into 2019, when the $US200-million bumps will seem like a fading memory as quarterly revenue heads toward $US5 billion.

So much money will soon be flowing into Tesla that the carmaker will have a fair shot at quickly flipping the equation on its results, posting modest profits.


The Model 3 is an exciting car.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The Great Tesla Paradox: How can a company that has inspired such love and admiration for its products be so bad at building them?

People in the auto industry bang their heads against this all the time. I’ve done more than my share of headbanging. And then I drive one of the cars and I get it: They’re terrific.

I’ve checked out the Model 3 twice and thought it was great both times. So have others, including the Wall Street Journal’s Pulitzer-winning car critic, Dan Neil. I know Dan and can safely say that it the Model 3 was a bad car, he wouldn’t hold back.

Tesla bears spend far too much time obsessing over the company’s surreal financials (they have been surreal for a long time, by the way) and not enough time considering the allure of its products and its customers’ loyalty.

Take this into account: one of the reasons that Tesla is under so much stress these days is that while it could be a small-volume manufacturer of all-electric luxury cars and probably turn a profit, the market has demanded that it become a higher-volume producer of less expensive vehicles.


400,000 pre-orders for the Model 3 is impossible to ignore.

Matthew DeBord

The massive and unprecedented number of pre-orders for the Model 3 is something of an insurance policy for Tesla, a bulwark against bad news.

Sure, Musk might be acting weird and the company might be resorting to unusual measures, such as erecting an assembly line under a tent in its factory parking lot. But no other carmaker on the planet has anything close to 400,000 advance orders for a vehicle, not to mention customers who were willing to put down a $US1,000 deposit for a car they wouldn’t get for several years.


Most people aren’t paying any attention to Musk.

Shocking, I know. But in the world of normal humans, Musk is known for being the electric car guy, and the SpaceX rocket guy – and as the model for the Tony Stark character played by Robert Downey, Jr. in the “Iron Man” movies.

His numerous steps and missteps and his unusual personality, while documented copiously on Twitter and elsewhere, are largely invisible to the population of the world. People with lives don’t have the time or the inclination to monitor @elonmusk or follow the battle between Tesla’s longs and Tesla’s shorts.

Their proxies in all this are the big institutional investors who hold the bulk of Tesla shares outside Musk’s 20%. They manage money for people who don’t obsessively follow the management of their money, and their Tesla stakes are constructed on the idea that the carmaker has performed spectacularly in the past and and could continue that trend in the future.


There’s no such thing as an unhappy Tesla investor.

Andy Kiersz/Business Insider

OK, that might be a slightly extreme statement for investors who bought in last year during the run to $US400. They’re dealing with some pain.

But for anyone who got in a few years ago, it’s all roses and sunshine and dancing unicorns and red Tesla Roadsters winging through space.

For the risk-takers who bought after Tesla’s 2010 IPO, the return has been blistering: around 1,000%.

Obviously, this is why Tesla has engendered so much short interest – it’s the most shorted stock on Earth: the titanic return represent the Moby Dick of negative opportunity. Or if you’ll forgive another literary metaphor, the Icarus of the stock market. There’s no way Musk can fly so close to the Sun without melting his wax wings.

Except that he can because he has so many delirious happy Tesla investors to catch him if he falls.

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