Tesla Motors Inc. Earnings: Is a Slowdown Coming?

Tesla stock has gotten hammered lately, but more worrying is whether a short-term growth slowdown could last longer than expected.

May 6, 2014 at 1:45PM

On Wednesday, Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) will release its quarterly report, and shareholders have taken a pretty big hit over the past couple of months as the high-flying stock has gotten punished along with its other momentum-driven peers. Yet as Ford (NYSE:F) starts a dramatic move to introduce and update its offerings, and as General Motors (NYSE:GM) looks for ways to boost its own innovation, will Tesla stay in the driver's seat or give way to competition?

Tesla Motors has taken shareholders on a long roller-coaster ride, with shares going through long upswings punctuated by occasional dramatic drops. The latest 20% correction is actually relatively mild by Tesla standards. But fundamentally, Tesla is trying to sustain its growth at a fast enough pace to satisfy growth-hungry investors and to establish itself as the early mover leader in the electric vehicle space before Ford, General Motors, and other mainstream producers start entering the industry more seriously. Let's take an early look at what's been happening with Tesla Motors over the past quarter and what we're likely to see in its report.

G
Source: Tesla Motors

Stats on Tesla Motors

Analyst EPS Estimate

$0.10

Change From Year-Ago EPS

(16.7%)

Revenue Estimate

$699.1 million

Change From Year-Ago Revenue

24%

Earnings Beats in Past Four Quarters

4

Source: Yahoo! Finance

Will Tesla earnings surprise investors again?
In recent months, analysts have had mixed views on Tesla earnings. They've slashed their first-quarter estimates by almost two-thirds, but they've now set their full-year 2014 projections up 10% from previous levels and 2015 projections have gone up by almost 30%. The stock has jumped 16% since late January, but it's down 17% since early March as shares continue their wild swings in both directions.

Tesla's fourth-quarter-earnings report continued the automaker's string of strong fundamental performance. Although Tesla had initially believed it would struggle to reach 6,000 Model S deliveries in the quarter, the company set a new record of 6,892, helping to double its overall revenue. The company also reached its gross-margin target, hitting 25.8% as it hopes to keep climbing to 28% by the end of this year. Tesla has an ambitious production-ramp-up target, expecting 35,000 deliveries in 2014 and 50,000 vehicle production volume for the Model S in 2015. The Model X is also on schedule to start mass production early next year.

But arguably the most important development for Tesla Motors was the announcement of its Gigafactory for producing electric-car batteries. The move would dramatically increase supplies of lithium-ion batteries, cutting battery-pack costs and therefore potentially allowing Tesla to boost its margins further. It now appears that Nevada could become the home of the production facility, allowing it to be sustainable via solar power and putting it close to sources of lithium.

Tsla Giga
Source: Tesla Motors

Another key for Tesla is its network of Supercharger stations, which help speed up recharging for drivers. Tesla wants to have all but 2% of the U.S. population covered by Superchargers by the end of next year, and it's working hard on building out infrastructure in Europe for charging as well.

Tesla got good news in late March, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed its battery-fire investigation. With the Model S getting Consumer Reports' best safety rating, Tesla Motors hopes that it will be able to put battery fires behind it and refocus on growing its overall business.

In the Tesla Motors earnings report, watch to see how deliveries fare and whether the company changes its guidance for the rest of the year. So far, things look good for Tesla fundamentally in powering past Ford and General Motors in the electric-car space, but after a big share-price drop, investors want to see outpaced performance from the automaker going forward. If so, then the modest growth slowdown that analysts have projected might look completely unnecessary in hindsight.

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Dan Caplinger owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends Ford, General Motors, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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