Short-sellers and hedge funds may be shadowy, but sometimes they are the smartest guys in the room. They've done their homework, and they're willing to bet their capital against the crowd -- an investing strategy that can be as lucrative as it is contrarian.
On Motley Fool CAPS, we've also got leading analysts who find the chinks in a company's armor and correctly call its fall. Our "Underdogs" have earned 100 or more CAPS points by correctly predicting that one or more stocks would underperform the market.
Today I'm looking at electric-car maker Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA ) , which is up almost 25% from the low point it hit earlier this year, but with doubts about its suppliers mounting it's given back more than 15% from its recent run-up.
It's been an up and down ride, so if there are investors who've scored big by correctly predicting which stocks will fail, it may be worth our while to check out those they think will succeed. Yet it's hard to swim against the tide of negativity, and two-thirds of the All-Star CAPS members weighing in on the carmaker think it will lose to the Street.
|1-Yr. Stock Return
|Return on Investment
|Est. 5-Yr. EPS Growth
|Dividend & Yield
Source: FinViz.com. N/A = not available; Tesla doesn't pay a dividend
Of course, not every short sale goes as planned, which makes shorting a risky proposition. Stock prices can be irrational longer than you have money to stay in the game. And you don't want to end up with fleas by lying down with dogs until you do your homework.
The spike strip for EVs
One of the roadblocks to broad adoption of consumer-oriented, natural-gas-powered vehicles is the lack of refueling stations. Clean Energy Fuels (Nasdaq: CLNE ) is in the process of building out a nationwide network of stations but it hasn't been fast enough yet to develop a critical mass.
On the surface it's a similar situation for electric vehicles. Limited by the charge their batteries can hold, EVs are an impractical vehicle for long-distance driving. Without recharging stations -- and ones that can do so quickly -- the market will forever be stuck as a niche product. As cool as the concept is, the EV is largely eyed as a technology not ready for prime time. Even the Congressional Budget Office thinks they're a waste of money.
Tesla hoped to change the industry's stodgy image by introducing the ultra sleek Model S. While that hasn't been a marketing success yet, Tesla wants to push the market further with a system of supercharging stations that would allow you to drive cross country for free. They're cropping up in California now, but company founder Elon Musk says they'll cover the U.S. in two years.
An industry up on blocks
But like the overhyped promise of the EV, this seems to be another pipe dream. Tesla just announced it was cutting its revenue forecasts for the year to almost half of what Wall Street was expecting and cutting the number of cars it would produce this year. Toyota (NYSE: TM ) is abandoning plans to mass produce electric vehicles, General Motors (NYSE: GM ) can't move it's Chevy Volt off the lot unless it bribes buyers with huge cash incentives, and Nissan Leaf sales are down 31% year over year and fell 50% in August.
Many of the problems can be laid at the doorstep of the carmakers' suppliers, namely the battery makers. While they were the biggest winners of the government handouts -- they received three quarters of the $2 billion targeted to the industry and handed out as part of President Obama's stimulus spending program -- but they've largely gone bankrupt or are otherwise failing. Valence Technology, A123 Systems, and Ener1 are symbols of what's wrong with the industry. It's the failure of the battery makers that's prodding Hyundai to go with fuel-cell technology for its vehicles, as is Honda (NYSE: HMC ) , which plans to build a fuel-cell EV in 2015.
Money ain't cheap
Telsa is having monetary troubles related to its own government loan and may have to pay it back early. It got a waiver for its existing terms earlier this year, but because of liquidity concerns, it notified the SEC it would be raising money through a secondary offering of 4.3 million shares. It may provide the funding it needs, but dilutes current shareholders.
I foresee more troubles for Tesla if for no other reason then there's just not enough demand for EVs, let alone high-priced ones like Tesla produces. I've rated it to underperform the market indexes on CAPS, but tell me in the comments section below if you think the secondary will give it the green light for growth.
There's no need to fear...
Natural gas has a better shot at ubiquity than EVs do and that will be as a result of Clean Energy Fuels, which is poised to make a big impact on this essential industry. Read all about Clean Energy Fuels in the Motley Fool's brand new report and drive off with a year's worth of. Just click here to get started.