Famed Short-Seller Jim Chanos Says Tesla Headed for ‘Brick Wall’

Updated on
  • Famed investor compares carmaker with Enron before its fall
  • Hedge fund manager says Elon Musk isn’t leading on autonomy
Chanos Says Tesla Is 'Structurally Unprofitable'

Tesla Inc., a perennial target of short sellers, “is headed for a brick wall,” investor Jim Chanos said.

“Every bull market has its poster children,” the president and founder of hedge fund Kynikos Associates Ltd said at an event in Detroit. “Tesla is one of the bad ones.”

Chanos has been public about his short position in Tesla Inc. for more than a year. When Tesla was in the process of merging with SolarCity Corp. in September 2016, he said the combined company would be a “walking insolvency.” Shares of the Elon Musk-led carmaker closed at $196.05 that day and at $339.03 on Wednesday.

While Chanos has made wayward bets against U.S. stocks and China recently, he built his reputation by wagering that Enron Corp. would fail and was proven correct. He said Wednesday that the spate of executive departures Tesla has endured this year is reminiscent of Enron before its fall. Chanos also said his short against Tesla has lost him money to this point and he doesn’t know when its stock actually will decline.

Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Executive Exits

Chanos predicted Musk will depart Tesla in the coming years for another one of his companies, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said earlier this month he could envision Tesla merging with SpaceX as the rocket company becomes a more time-consuming focus for Musk.

Tesla has been successful because it was the first company to make electric cars fun and attractive, Chanos said. As German automakers like Porsche and BMW AG introduce competing models, Tesla’s advantage will disappear, he said.

“What Elon did was simple: He made EVs sexy,” Chanos said. “Prior to that you had to compromise and get something like a Prius. But now he has the entire auto world that has figured that out and is coming up with aspirational cars. He’s fighting a different fight.”

Read more: A QuickTake on short selling

Chanos said he also believes that Tesla is behind when it comes to self-driving vehicle technology. General Motors Co. last month showed off the latest version of its self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric car to investors and reporters. Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo is the leader in autonomous vehicles and Volkswagen AG has good technology, he said.

Autonomy Leaders

“Detroit and Germany are spending billions of dollars on this,” Chanos said. “Tesla is not a leader.”

Musk has trolled some investors in the past for betting against Tesla, tweeting in April about “stormy weather in Shortville” as the company passed Ford Motor Co. in market capitalization. Short interest has been inching higher this fall and is now about 24 percent of free float, IHS Markit data show. Tesla’s stock price has climbed 59 percent this year.

Tesla has been working to get its Model 3 sedan into production, burning money at a clip of about $8,000 a minute. The model’s roll-out has been marred by bottlenecks at its battery factory and sole auto plant. Tesla produced fewer than one fifth of the Model 3s it had targeted for the third quarter and delayed plans to reach weekly output of 5,000 sedans per week to March, from December.

Chanos said Tesla will need to go back to the markets to raise money in order to bring out its Semi truck and Roadster sports car.

For more on Tesla, check out the Decrypted  podcast:

“Tesla’s biggest asset is its stock price,” Chanos said. “When it falls, it will really fall.”

— With assistance by Dana Hull

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