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July 28, 2019, 9:47 a.m. EDT

Elon Musk’s latest Tesla sales promises have analysts scratching their heads

Analysts mostly skeptical that Tesla can deliver on Musk’s forecast with most trimming stock price targets

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch

MarketWatch photo illustration/Getty Images, iStockphoto
Elon Musk has left the analyst community puzzled

Elon Musk’s reiteration of full-year delivery forecasts for Tesla Inc. when reporting earnings Wednesday had a chilling effect on the company’s stock price and analysts weighing in on the results had this to say: They don’t believe him.

“While demand showed an impressive bounce back this quarter and the company is seeing strong order activity for the third quarter, we continue to believe that the reiteration of 360,000 to 400,000 unit guidance for full-year 2019 was a head scratcher since the pure math and demand trajectory makes this an Everest-like uphill battle,” is how Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives summed it up on Thursday.

Under its new finance head, Telsa /zigman2/quotes/203558040/composite TSLA +1.52%  seemed to be moving away from the aggressive forecasts that have caught it out in the past in the shareholder letter released late Wednesday. The letter, which was far shorter than usual, said the company was “simplifying its approach to guidance,” as MarketWatch’s Jeremy Owens reported.

But on the later conference call with analysts Musk immediately reiterated the specific unit guidance and said the company expects to be breakeven this quarter and profitable in the next one.

See also: Tesla stock tanks after company’s larger quarterly loss, sales miss

“We do not believe this is likely and model third-quarter deliveries -10% q/q, with the fourth-quarter back near second-quarter levels (total 2019 = ~339k),” said RBC analyst Joseph Spak. “As a result, we do not believe the next two quarters revenue will grow either from second-quarter levels or on a year-on-year basis. In fact, we don’t see revenue returning to near second-quarter levels until the third quarter of 2020. So growth is likely to be on hiatus and we don’t believe the valuation reflects this,” the analyst wrote as he stuck with his underperform rating on the stock and $190 price target, which is below its current level.

At Needham, analyst Rajvindra Gill was also skeptical about the guidance.

“We are cautious on Tesla’s ability to fulfill these goals as the ramp requires a significant snapback in the second half,” the analyst wrote in a note. “We maintain our underperform rating due to structurally low margins, accelerating competition and lack of sustained profitability. “

Tesla’s stock reflected pessimism, sliding 14% Thursday to mark its biggest one-day percentage decline since November of 2013. The company posted a loss of $408 million, or $2.31 a share, for the quarter, compared with a loss of $718 million, or $4.22 a share, in the year-ago quarter. Sales rose to $6.3 billion, compared with $4 billion a year ago. Adjusted for one-time items, Tesla lost $1.12 a share, compared with a loss of $3.06 a share a year ago.

Analysts polled by FactSet had expected Tesla to report an adjusted quarterly loss of 35 cents a share on sales of $6.5 billion. The news was especially disappointing coming after second-quarter sales number earlier this month that topped Wall Street forecasts and set a record.

Wedbush’s Ives cut his price target to $220 from $230 and maintained a neutral rating on the stock.

“While demand showed an impressive bounce back this quarter and the company is seeing strong order activity for the third quarter, we continue to believe that the reiteration of 360k to 400k unit guidance for full-year 2019 was a head scratcher since the pure math and demand trajectory makes this an Everest-like uphill battle.”

Daniel Ives, analyst, Wedbush

“Tesla took a step in the right direction with a strong delivery number on Model 3 success, however the soft gross margin profile will be a gut punch to the bulls hoping for much needed good news on this front,” he wrote in a note.

But not all houses were unwilling to give Musk the benefit of the doubt. Baird’s Ben Kallo, a long-time bull, reiterated his outperform rating on the stock and price target of $355.

“Headline cash balance ($5B) and cash generation ($614M) numbers were extremely favorable, in our view, and should support future growth investments,” Kallo wrote in a note. “Investors may focus on soft GAAP margins and the bottom-line miss, though results were adversely impacted by timing of credits (auto gross margin expanded ~200bps sequentially, excluding credits) and other restructuring/foreign exchange impacts.”

Baird took a different view of the news of the transition of the company’s chief technology officer JB Straubel to a senior adviser role, news that surprised investors and comes after a string of high-level departures.

“We view the succession plan favorably, though Mr. Straubel’s contribution will be missed,” wrote Kallo.

Click to Play

Tesla Slump Reflects Growing Skepticism of Company Vision

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said 2019 would bring an affordable electric car built in a new factory in China. But as WSJ’s Tim Higgins reports, investors may be losing confidence in that plan. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann

Piper Jaffray’s Alexander Potter said Straubel is “probably the second-most important person at Tesla, “and even though he is retaining “adviser” status, his departure is nonetheless likely to rattle investors. He offered no explanation, but his amicable mood didn’t suggest dissatisfaction of any kind.”

See now: Tesla is getting China right, Morgan Stanley says

Potter also took a largely bullish view, reiterating his overweight rating on the stock and describing forward-looking metrics as “all trending in the right direction.” He trimmed his stock price target to $368 from $396.

Tesla shares have fallen 20.4% in 2019, while the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +2.80%  has gained 20.5% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +3.51% has gained 16.9%.

Read now: Sales of Tesla’s high-end Model S are dropping in key markets

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Ciara Linnane is MarketWatch's investing- and corporate-news editor. She is based in New York.

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