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Tesla is in its 'awkward teenage' years: WSJ's Tim Higgins

Grete Suarez

Tesla (TSLA) dropped after Morgan Stanley revealed its extreme worse-case scenario, saying the stock could fall as low as $10, a steep decline from its previous target of $97.

The Wall Street Journal’s tech and auto reporter, Tim Higgins, didn’t even flinch at this gloomy scenario. “It’s still be better valued than some other automakers. They’re still getting a premium there,” he said on The Ticker.

Tesla’s value

Higgins said Tesla’s value lies in its technology being ahead of its competitors.

“The core parts of Tesla are very interesting. They have a battery management system that is among the best in the world, if not the best, according to some analysts,” he said. “You got this real culture of software programming in the car just other car companies are struggling.”

Higgins believe that could also make Tesla an attractive target for potential takeovers.

“They can be very interesting for other people out there who want to jumpstart their electric car program or bring a more tech focused aspect to their business,” he said.

Tesla's stock price seesaws over the past year.

The China problem

Morgan Stanley cited Tesla’s dependence on China as the driving reason behind their bear case. Higgins agrees it is a big challenge.

“A lot of that growth is forecasted in China. Elon Musk is rushing to build a factory there, promising to build a model 3 and model y which will allow him to sell them at a lower price point in the China market,” he said. “Now you’ve got this uncertain environment with the economy globally, you’ve got the possible trade war and challenges for U.S. companies to operate in China, that’s a huge risk factor for this company.”

Higgins said while China is a huge headwind to the company, it is also facing high stock prices driven by investors its high stock price is largely driven Elon Musk’s vision.

“A few years ago, investors were driving up the price of the stock and the market value of Tesla’s rival General Motors, a much larger company that makes a profit,” he said. “Tesla’s never had an annual profit and sells just a fraction of those vehicles.

“[Investors believe] that Elon Musk and Tesla had this big vision for personal transportation, and there was this huge demand for Model 3 and what came next.”

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 4: Tesla CEO Elon Musk exits federal court, April 4, 2019 in New York City. A federal judge heard oral arguments this afternoon in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that seeks to hold Musk in contempt for violating a settlement deal. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Elon Musk: Tesla’s double-edged sword

Tesla has been operating for 15 years and it owes much of its success to Elon Musk’s ambitions and risk-taking personality, while other automaker CEOs aren’t as keen to follow. Despite Musk’s bold lead, Higgins said the company is still “finding its way.”

“[Tesla is] kind of in its awkward teenage years if you will. It’s no longer really a startup, but it’s not the same kind of company like what General Motors (GM) or Volkswagen or Toyota is,” Higgins said.

Yet over the recent years, Musk’s troubles have mounted, from running afoul with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over his unchecked tweets to being ousted as chairman over allegedly duping investors about a proposed buyout of the company.

Despite the troubles, Tesla continues to seek large amounts of capital to fuel its ambitious growth plans.

“Tesla without Elon — would investors be as excited to put money into the company going forward?” Higgins said.

Grete Suarez is producer at Yahoo Finance for YFi PM and The Ticker. Follow her on Twitter: @GreteSuarez

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