Tesla Drops on Vehicle Deliveries, Outlook: Mover

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk
Tesla Motors Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said production of the Model S at Tesla’s Fremont, California, plant is being held back by parts supplies, particularly of lithium-ion battery cells. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Tesla Motors Inc., the electric-car maker led by billionaire Elon Musk, slid the most in more than 21 months after reporting quarterly vehicle sales that missed some estimates and lower revenue from regulatory credits.

The shares plunged 15 percent to $151.16 at the close in New York, the biggest one-day slide since Jan. 13, 2012. Tesla was the worst performer today in the Nasdaq-100 Index. The company also projected little-changed fourth-quarter earnings yesterday.

Before the results, the stock had surged more than fivefold this year, valuing the carmaker at 294 times projected earnings even as Tesla faces a number of challenges. The company is expanding into Europe and Asia while ramping up factory output, building out its North American retail network and developing its first sport-utility vehicle.

“Expectations may have gotten a bit too far ahead of reality,” said Phil Gott, an auto technology analyst for IHS Automotive. “Once Elon Musk proved he could beat the odds, people have grown to expect that will always be the case.”

Model S deliveries totaled about 5,500 in the third quarter, the company said in a statement yesterday on its website. Brian Johnson, an auto analyst at Barclays Plc, had expected 5,820 Model S sales. Dan Galves of Deutsche Bank AG estimated the company would ship 5,850 cars in the quarter.

Tesla said it plans to deliver “slightly under 6,000” Model S sedans this quarter with an adjusted profit “about consistent” with third-quarter levels.

Fourth Quarter

Excluding some items, Tesla earned 12 cents a share in the third quarter. That compares with a per-share loss of 92 cents a year earlier. The average estimate of nine analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was for a profit of 10 cents a share.

The results were “light of our expectations on lower sales beat, development services loss and higher expenses,” Johnson of Barclays said in a research note yesterday. “Results with somewhat slower ramp of Tesla S deliveries reinforce our view that Tesla had overshot in the past few months and is more properly valued at $141.”

Production of the Model S at Tesla’s Fremont, California, plant is being held back by parts supplies, particularly of lithium-ion battery cells, Chief Executive Officer Musk said on a conference call yesterday.

“We really are production constrained, not demand constrained,” said Musk, 42. “We are working really hard to improve production.”

Tesla and Panasonic Corp. last month announced a deal to supply at least 1.8 billion cells over four years. The supply agreement is “more of a floor than a ceiling,” Musk said. Panasonic, Tesla’s main cell supplier, also owns a 1.2 percent stake in the Palo Alto, California-based company.

‘Giga Factory’

Musk said Tesla is considering building a new “giga factory” that would produce battery packs needed as the carmaker’s output grows. He didn’t provide details on when or where such a plant would be built and how much it would cost.

Besides the Model S, now in production and priced from $70,000 to more than $100,000, Tesla plans a Model X electric sport-utility vehicle starting in 2014 and a less expensive sedan by about 2016.

Sales of zero-emission vehicle credits, generated from cars Tesla sells in California and other states, totaled $10 million, the company said. That’s down from the $51 million in the second quarter and $68 million in the first quarter.

California is considering revisions to its program that would cut the number of credits Tesla gets for the Model S by as much as 40 percent from 2015. The California Air Resources Board on Oct. 24 deferred a decision on the matter until next year.

Model S Targets

Tesla plans to deliver 21,500 units of its flagship Model S this year, up from a previous goal of 21,000, Musk said in the statement. The increase gets the company closer to the CEO’s initial goal for a combined 25,000 Model S deliveries through 2013. Tesla delivered about 2,650 Model S cars last year, falling short of a 5,000 target.

Revenue surged to $431.3 million from $50.1 million a year ago. Tesla’s net loss totaled $38.5 million, or 32 cents a share, compared with $110.8 million, or $1.05, a year earlier.

About 1,000 cars went to Europe during the quarter, the company said. Shipments to China should begin in January, with initial sales planned for February, Musk said on the call. Musk, the company’s biggest investor, has said that over time two-thirds of Tesla’s sales will come from overseas.

The company reported a gross margin of 21 percent in the quarter.

Production of components for a new electric luxury model for Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz begins next year, Musk said. Daimler, along with Toyota Motor Corp., are both Tesla investors and customers.

Company Plans

“Maybe some people forgot this is an automotive company -- it requires lots of cash, a lot of long-range planning,” Alan Baum, an auto analyst at Baum & Associates in West Bloomfield, Michigan, said by telephone. “This industry devours cash.”

The carmaker named for inventor Nikola Tesla plans to build on this year’s first profits, coming after a decade of losses. The prospect for extended gains will be influenced by continuing expenses to add more company-owned stores, expand its rapid-charge station network and develop a lower-priced battery car due within three years.

The stock’s rise this year coupled with expenses to expand could restrain further share price gains even as Tesla vehicle sales grow, said Ben Kallo, a San Francisco-based analyst for Robert W. Baird & Co.

“Execution on several of these fronts is already priced into the stock and could limit further price appreciation in the near-to-intermediate term,” Kallo, who rates the shares neutral, said in a report today.

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