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Tesla Motors Inc. Beats Estimates and Abruptly Plunges 10%; What Are Investors Missing?

Tesla Motors' Model S charging. Source: Tesla Motors

Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) posted its first-quarter results after market close yesterday and beat estimates for earnings and revenues alike. Thomson Reuters' consensus estimate was for Tesla to report earnings per share, excluding one-time items, of $0.10 per share on revenue of $699 million.

Tesla's non-GAAP results checked in at $0.12 earnings per share on revenue of $713 million. Of course, after beating estimates from all corners of Wall Street, Tesla shares abruptly fell more than 6% after hours and is down nearly 10% this morning. What gives?

Lofty valuation
I believe there are two parts to answering that question. First, Tesla is still in the very early stages of its long-term business vision and investors are increasingly finding it difficult to justify the stock's lofty valuation. At Wednesday's closing price its market capitalization was nearly half of General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) and about 40% of Ford  (NYSE: F  ) . Being valued at 40% of Ford is challenging for Tesla as the Blue Oval posted one of its most profitable years in company history with $8.6 billion in pretax profits last year.

Second, is that it seems everyone on Wall Street and in the media are focusing on Tesla beating estimates, but that isn't the entire story. Sure, excluding one-time items, Tesla beat earnings by recording $0.12 per share; but we're forgetting, or perhaps ignoring, those results are non-GAAP standards.

According to GAAP standards Tesla was expected to report a first-quarter net loss of $25 million, or ($0.15) per share, according to MarketWatch. Tesla's actual net loss checked in at twice that amount, a loss $50 million or ($0.40) per share, according to Tesla's letter to shareholders. Tesla beat non-GAAP estimates slightly but checked in well below GAAP estimates, and that I believe is a large reason for the sell-off.

As nearsighted Tesla investors headed toward the door in after-hours trading, there were still some positive takeaways for long-term investors. Tesla still has massive potential and its ability to disrupt the entire automotive industry with its innovative electric vehicles remains alive and well.

Tesla's production rate nears 700 cars/week. Source: Tesla Motors

The good news
A key figure I was looking for in Tesla's first-quarter results was its production rate. If Tesla wasn't near 700 vehicles per week, it was going to make achieving its goal of 35,000 deliveries this year difficult -- keep in mind reaching that goal is a 55% increase in deliveries, year over year. Tesla noted its vehicle production was currently about 15% higher than at the end of the fourth quarter, which puts it at about 690 vehicles. Tesla still expects to improve that production rate to 1,000 vehicles per week by the end of this year.

One of the most common bear arguments for Tesla is that demand was already peaking for the Model S in North America. There was little to back these claims up, but during the conference call yesterday CEO Elon Musk made it clear that orders rose sequentially, and significantly, worldwide, including North America's 10% growth over last quarter's net orders. Make no mistake, Tesla's products are still roping in strong demand and the company is still supply limited.

Another positive tidbit was the automaker's situation in China. Tesla has just begun selling vehicles into the world's largest automotive market but has been met with high levels of consumer enthusiasm and goodwill. Tesla has also found it surprisingly easier to build its infrastructure once it had the government backing. Tesla is determined to make its market entry in China as successful and flawless as possible. The company's relentless focus on improving its products and taking care of the customer bode very well for its future in China, as well as globally.

Another great piece of news from Tesla was regarding its Gigafactory, which will enable the company to produce battery packs at a 30% discount. Panasonic has signed a letter of intent to being Tesla's partner in the venture, and the automaker expects to break ground on the first of two sites next month. That's great news for long-term investors expecting Tesla to remain on a tight schedule to deliver its next-generation vehicles, which will require a much larger supply of batteries and at a better cost.

Foolish takeaway
Ultimately, this was a good quarter for Tesla. What might be the most impressive takeaway is the company's ability to consistently make good on its claims. It met its goal of production rate, deliveries, infrastructure gains, automotive gross margins, and is still on schedule for its Gigafactory construction. While its valuation makes it difficult for potential investors to find an entry point -- or deliver quarterly profits good enough to satisfy short-term investors -- the long-term business vision is still very bright for Tesla. 

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  • Report this Comment On May 08, 2014, at 2:56 PM, iphonerulez wrote:

    Isn't Tesla just getting to be fairly valued? It's gone up so much in the past year, so I suppose there can be some profit-taking. It's a solid company but it still seems to be priced a bit too high. However, I'm willing to be there will be investors who'll start piling in again within a few weeks.

  • Report this Comment On May 08, 2014, at 6:21 PM, TMFTwoCoins wrote:

    In my opinion you're right on both accounts, or close. I think it's getting closer to being fairly valued, although it's pretty tough to gauge how low Tesla should go. It's still a bit high for my taste, but I can't obviously speak for all kinds of investors. And to your second point, there probably will be some investors willing to pile back in, but I think this quarter's results and the cost of its aggressive production and infrastructure expansion will deter some folks in the near-term. We'll see.

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Daniel Miller

As a Motley Fool Industrial Specialist, I use my marketing and business background in the automotive industry to evaluate major automakers and other large industrial corporations. Follow me on twitter for tweets about stocks, cars, sports, and anything I find amusing.

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