- Down 51% year to date, Tesla, Inc. may soon get on the radar of some value investors.
- The tweeting debacle is an excellent catalyst to bring the share price down from the stratosphere.
- Although this was a Covid rocket stock, Tesla is by no means unprofitable and certainly sits in the driver’s seat for all things EV.
Tesla rocket finally coming back down to earth
Tesla, Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) is a stock that I have been heavily critical of when having discussions about whether the company is a value or not circa 2020 and 2021. The “it’s the future, bro” arguments have fallen time and time again on my deaf ears, far too analytical and critical of numbers and ratios. Some of the projections have been outright ludicrous. Included in these assumptions are Robo-taxis and autonomous driving software.
However, with the price being cut in half and earnings having quadrupled based nearly 100% on car sales over the Covid era, I’m starting to change my mind about Tesla. I still don’t buy into the revenue and earnings projections outside of the electric vehicle (“EV”) segment, but based on the EV segment alone, I’m beginning to like the numbers.
I give Tesla credit for growing earnings, both GAAP and non-GAAP, sales and revenues at a faster clip than I could have ever imagined. The margins are also higher than competitors. While the growth has been impressive, the high CAGR in earnings is going from nothing to something without a ton of trailing data. With 2022 basically in the books, we are hitting that 5-year data mark where I would start to be confident in drawing evidence-based conclusions on what they have achieved.
I consider Tesla a buy, although a cautious one. I would dollar cost average here and speed up the buys under $130.
50+% is a nice dip. Getting cut in half is not usually a situation that lasts long in Tesla shares. Normally, loyalists would step in to give some support and the hedge funds would follow suit.
Something seems different this time.
One positive is that this drop, taking it down close to pre-Covid prices, happens at a time when Tesla is nearly quadrupling the non-GAAP EBITDA earnings during the trailing 3 years. It is growing from just over $4 Billion to $16.3 on a TTM basis. It’s possible that Elon fans were basing their valuations on how closely the CEO fit their ideal of a leader. Now that he has purchased Twitter and is expressing his ideas on the platform, that sheen is wearing off.
To say the least, I am thrilled that a non-correlated event is taking the share price of a company like Tesla down a peg. These are the best of situations, as you normally only get value investment opportunities when a directly correlated negative event occurs. For instance, negative oil prices in the case of Exxon (XOM), high-interest rates killing the housing market for Toll Brothers (TOL), or a bad collateralized loan like American Express (AXP) had with the “salad oil” scandal.
Future assumptions on how sales might go in the face of a recession could also be negative, but that item has yet to manifest.
Boots on the ground
It’s been my luck that I live near Giga Factory 1, I know several factory employees and have seen the positive effect that Tesla has had on the community of Northern Nevada. The first Giga Factory was set up in conjunction with Panasonic (OTCPK:PCRFY, OTCPK:PCRFF), sharing the factory right down the middle 50/50. The location is ideal, 3 hours from Fremont, the cars come over the Sierras in a daily stream down I-80 east, offloaded at the factory to be packed with battery cells. While Berlin, Shanghai, and Austin get all the headlines, this is the factory that most likely puts the cells in your car if you drive a Tesla.
At the time, Tesla was so cool that they brought a plethora of tech-related companies from the Bay Area along with them and had the largest industrial park in the world sold out within a couple of years of their arrival. The cool kid panache did more than drive up the stock price, it attracted other large companies on their coattails like a magnet. Tesla also offered stock options and compensation to every factory worker from the bottom to the top. Many a new home down payment was made by liquidating Tesla stock. Many a backyard was regrettably landscaped with Tesla stock as well. I say regrettably because the share price would often go on to double or triple thereafter, making your $25,000 brick-lay job a potential profit loss of $100 grand or more.
This is simply one man’s Phil Fisher Scuttlebutt observation. Employees give me feedback that Tesla is running a quality operation. Since the entire operation is built around EVs to start, they don’t need to reconfigure existing internal combustion engine (“ICE”) operations to fit the EV product line. They have streamlined the operation a ton from the inception of Giga 1 to current, automating more and more lines as they go along. I imagine the automation advances help to maintain and increase their margins. The advances from Giga 1 have helped and will help further Giga factories to start from a more advanced position.
Then came October, and Musk closed on the Twitter deal:
From late September when the deal was about to close until now, the stock has shed most of that 50% in this short time frame. This is occurring due to a non-Tesla correlated event, other than the assumption that Tesla’s captain is asleep at the wheel. With this, we begin to realize that Tesla on its own merits was overpriced, but Musk added a huge premium. That premium may be gone now, although his intelligence remain as IP with the company. The Tesla price is now beginning to resemble a stock traded on fundamentals rather than blind optimism.
For growth companies that take a lot of write-offs and depreciation, I like to look under the hood at the non-GAAP earnings equation until a company scales back its growth initiatives. Currently, we have TTM GAAP earnings at a tad over $11 Billion and non-GAAP EBITDA TTM at $16.348 Billion, or roughly 33% higher.
Looking at 2018 on the far right side to TTM on the left, we see a CAGR in EBITDA of 57.366%. That’s a hot number, and one of the primary catalysts in the share price ascension. When I say “hot,”, I also mean non-sustainable in the long run. Beating 25% per year CAGR on any earnings line doesn’t happen for long periods. Thus, taking Peter Lynch’s advice, I like to max out my growth multiple at 25% (25 X) per annum even if a company is exceeding that CAGR in the near term. With 3.099 Billion shares outstanding, that currently gives us an EBITDA per share of $5.25, the number I will use as my multiplicand. To wind up at the crosshairs of a PEG ratio of 1 or less on an EBITDA basis assuming a max growth rate of 25%, I will simply use 25 as my multiplier times $5.25. This spits out a fair value of $131.25. Close, but not quite where I want it yet.
The balance sheet
Tesla is fairly well capitalized with $21.11 Billion in cash and cash equivalents. With only $5.87 Billion in debt, the debt-to-equity ratio is only 14.28%. These numbers are more akin to tech versus vehicle companies where even the most conservative companies like Toyota Motors (TM) are still levered up over 100%. The least conservative, like Ford (F), can be levered up over 300% if you include their capital markets arms that extend syndicated debt to the consumer. Therefore, in this sense, I will certainly agree that the balance sheet of Tesla does resemble a tech company because they have been able to grow through equity raises due to the popularity of the company. Other vehicle manufacturers do not have that luxury. While the auto sector will be sensitive to interest rates for both consumer financing and financing operations, at least Tesla does not have to worry much about their company side of the equation.
Balance sheet trends
A positive trend observation I always like to borrow from Peter Lynch is which direction are current assets and debt going. Ideally, current assets should be on the uptrend and debt, especially long-term debt on the downtrend. In Tesla’s case, current assets have increased from $8.3 Billion 5 years ago to $35.9 Billion today, a CAGR of 34%. That is a positive trend indeed.
We also can observe total debt, long term excluding current debt, down almost 50%. While current debt is up, that is mainly a number that floats upwards with sales volume funding product that comes off the line, centered around accounts payable to suppliers as demand increases. The long-term debt number is certainly the focus and is trending in the right direction as well.
Another Tesla bull argument is that the massive expansion in Giga factory growth is going to lead to amazing earnings growth potential and car sales volume that will exceed their competition. Truth is, they will certainly be cash incinerators for a good while, and they are needed to simply compete with other manufacturers that already have plants all over the world. Volume should not be the focus, but rather efficiencies and margins.
Everyone knows the vehicle production/sold comparison between Tesla and the other auto producers, and I believe that this is more a game of catchup rather than racing ahead. If they can produce half as many cars as the top competitors but continue to automate more and more operations, leading to double the margins, that would be a win. With a gross profit margin of 25% and a return on invested capital of 15%, this is another tech-like resemblance that I give Tesla points for. Replicating this all over the world could make Tesla a profit leader even with less sales volume.
The inflation reduction act passed in August should be a boon for all EV auto makers, with Tesla being a main beneficiary. The $7,500 in tax credits for EV buyers should help maintain at least flat revenue if the economy takes a dive. I see it as a backstop if 2023 turns out to be as rough a year as many economists are making it out to be. Wells Fargo (WFC) expects the year to be a recession, recovery, and then a rebound by the end of the year. A recessionary environment entering 2023 should give us a greater chance to buy Tesla at a discount for possibly the first two quarters of the year. A FED pivot in the summer heading into election season will probably send tech and growth stocks bouncing well off the bottoms.
Tesla still garners almost 100% of its profits from the sales of vehicles, so I will continue to put Tesla squarely in the vehicle manufacturer segment versus energy storage.
Tesla is way ahead in the U.S. market for 2022, controlling more than 50% of the EV market. The total representation of vehicle sales in the U.S. is still only 1.13%, therefore, there’s still a lot of room to grow. Best case scenario is Tesla approaches Toyota/Ford levels at 10+% market share. I personally wouldn’t get any more optimistic than that, but with Tesla’s superior margins, that would be enough to satisfy my appetite.
The most logical catalysts coming to fruition are the Semi-truck deliveries. With the initial orders delivered to Pepsi at the beginning of December, this will be the main item that I have my eye on. With Austin up and running, it will be fascinating to see if the trucks actually catch on and garner demand. The logistics of charging large vehicles with huge battery capacities will be the challenge. The installation of mega chargers is the key to adoption. Which grids can handle them and how many can they get installed along major transport routes before the end of 2023 is the question. All these are items that, if pulled off successfully, should be major catalysts for Tesla.
Risks are threefold. The continued disliking of Elon Musk by the media, poor execution in the Semi-truck segment, and a recession that causes sales volume to dip below a point at which tax credits could backstop them. If the recession turns out to be milder than thought and China stays open from Covid lockdowns, sales volume might stay on track to increase. However, in a year running up to an election and the possibility for many divisive tweets, don’t be surprised if Musk is able to create a share discount all by himself even if all other items execute.
I would never look at a vehicle company on a non-GAAP performance basis, and usually revert to the most conservative metric of all, the Graham Number, to incorporate their book value. Almost all of Tesla’s competitors have been around for decades, and their businesses and earnings growth resemble that. Tesla’s income statement and balance sheet both follow tech-related trends at this point, so I am giving Tesla quite a premium to what I would normally pay for a car company.
Tesla may end up being more than a car company, and there is evidence that they are trying. I am not, however, going to attempt fortune telling and draw a conclusion that every keynote speech/battery day initiative will come to fruition and base a multiple around revenues or profits that may never exist. I am a conservative value investor, and I do believe my $130 mark for Tesla is still extremely liberal with a premium attached to it. The price is close enough to call it a cautious buy, with more confident bets for Tesla under $130.
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Disclosure: I/we have a beneficial long position in the shares of TSLA either through stock ownership, options, or other derivatives. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.