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Self-proclaimed Tesla bull says Q1 was one of the worst debacles he's seen in 20 years

Javier E. David
Editor focused on markets and the economy

Tesla’s (TSLApoor first quarter performance sent its stock reeling on Thursday and brought out the bears, with one Wall Street firm downgrading the company’s stock while blasting CEO Elon Musk for behaving as if he was in the “Twilight Zone.”

The car maker’s shares closed the session down over 4%, settling at $247.63 after reporting a loss on Wednesday that was far wider than analysts had expected. Since the start of 2019, Tesla has burned through more than a $1.5 billion in cash, with demand for its electric cars on the wane.

On a conference call with reporters, a seemingly nonchalant Musk and Tesla CFO Zach Kirkhorn dismissed the need to raise more capital, and promised a strong month of production was on tap after months of weak deliveries.

Wall Street, however, was largely unimpressed. A slew of analysts expressed concern about a potential Tesla cash crunch, and the possibility that Model 3 sales could “cannibalize” its older Model S and X.

“Loss of confidence in the story with no pilot on the plane”

Early Thursday, Wedbush Securities’ Daniel Ives downgraded Tesla’s stock to “neutral,” saying he could no longer recommend it as a buy “until Tesla starts to take its medicine and focus on reality around demand issues which is the core focus of investors.”

Ives slashed his price target from $365 to $275, “reflecting our reduced numbers for the coming years and our loss of confidence in the story with no pilot on the plane to navigate through this severe demand turbulence.”

It was a particularly jarring turn for an analyst that self-identified as a “long-term bull on the Tesla story.”

Yet after Wednesday, he dramatically changed his tune.

In the firm’s “20 years of covering tech stocks on the Street we view this quarter as one of top debacles we have ever seen while Musk & Co. in an episode out of the Twilight Zone act as if demand and profitability will magically return to the Tesla story,” Ives wrote.

Still, at least a few other analysts remained bullish on the company— or at least neutral. Piper Jaffray maintained its “overweight” rating, amid expectations that the downside would be limited to Q1.

Oppenheimer also held an “overweight” rating on Tesla with a price target of $437, despite what it called a “messy” earnings quarter. “We keep our estimates largely intact and maintain a positive outlook given TSLA’s leadership position in EV technology.”

Musk is continuing his battle with regulators, while trying to firm up Tesla’s financial performance, which continues to disappoint investors. On the conference call, the CEO announced Tesla’s intention to offer insurance on its vehicles, and promoted the development of a fleet of self-driving cars.

Ives largely dismissed those ideas as “distractions from the growing demand woes that are not being addressed which is a critical worry of ours at this juncture.

Although Musk said there was no need for additional capital at this juncture, Wedbush thinks Tesla “will likely have to raise $3 billion+ of capital in the near term to sustain [capital expenditure] and debt needs given its current profitability path, which is another black cloud over the name with an inexperienced CFO now at the helm,” the firm wrote.

“Ultimately we believe the company’s guidance is aggressive and management/board is not taking aggressive enough cost cutting actions and shutting down future endeavors to preserve capital and give a sustained path to profitability for the Street,” Wedbush said.

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