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Tesla Faces Heavy Lift as Model 3 Enters Europe and China

Feb. 12, 2019
Investors and analysts are now focused on the demand trends experienced by Tesla in all of its markets.

For Tesla Inc. (IW 500/99) investors, the last year was all about whether the company could make enough cars at a stable rate. This year is going to be all about who would buy those cars.

As Tesla gears up to expand into Europe and China, investors and analysts are now focused on the demand trends experienced by the company in all of its markets. “Tesla has now shifted from a production story to a demand story,” Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives wrote in a note to clients on Monday, adding that Norway, the Netherlands, and Germany are front and center as the countries with strong pent-up demand for Model 3s in Europe.

“The big question for investors will be watching this Model 3 demand trajectory throughout Europe to gauge the pace of unit deliveries and how quickly can it reach the 100,000 units delivery barometer over the next 12 months in this key region, with China also a demand driver/potential wild card,” the analyst wrote.

Tesla chief Elon Musk visited Europe over the weekend, stopping in Norway, which is the company’s third-biggest market, helped by generous incentives for low-emission vehicles and high taxes on gas-fueled cars. Separately, China’s state-run newspaper Global Times tweeted on Monday that the first shipment of the Model 3 had arrived at the Port of Tianjin, ready for delivery to Chinese customers.

The electric-vehicle maker kicked off this year on a dull note after fourth-quarter deliveries slightly lagged expectations, and multiple price cuts have followed for the Model 3 sedan to compensate for the gradual elimination of federal tax incentives. Tesla’s quarterly profit, reported in late January, also missed estimates and failed to inspire investor confidence.

Tesla stock had fallen more than 8% this year through Friday, before Monday’s gains. The S&P 500 Index gained 8% over the same period.

Yet despite the shaky numbers and a lackluster outlook, some say the company is on the right path. “We believe the last two quarters and recent guidance for first quarter have removed significant concerns for both production capability and profitability of the critical Model 3,” Canaccord Genuity analyst Jed Dorsheimer wrote in a note. “As such, we see a more stable 2019 with far fewer concerns for investors in the company.”

Dorsheimer also upgraded Tesla to buy from hold, and raised his price target to $450 from $330, saying the Street underappreciates the company’s progress in the electric vehicle market.

The steady advance of global automakers into the electric car market has weighed on Tesla’s valuation over the past twelve months, with Morgan Stanley calling Tesla’s 80% U.S. electric vehicle market share in 2018 unsustainable. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said he expected the “next serious competition” to come “from a ‘clean sheet’ start-up with access to talent & capital focused on the fastest growing segments of pickup trucks & SUVs.”

Tesla has long been a far-from-stable story. While the stock gained as much as 4.2% on Monday, investors should brace for a choppy ride this year.

“The profitability picture for 2019 and the all-important Model 3 demand trajectory in Europe for Tesla looks encouraging for Musk & Co., but there is clearly heavy lifting ahead around Europe logistics/cost-cutting/driving incremental U.S. demand that will remain overhangs and thus make Tesla a ‘prove me’ story the next few quarters,” Wedbush’s Ives said.

By Esha Dey

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