The stock market is, for lack of a better word, imperfect. While we as investors would love for things to be entirely rational (for example, earnings growth translating into orderly stock-buying and the subsequent appreciation of stock valuations), that's not always what happens.
A number of factors, including emotions and even X factors that can't be foreseen ahead of time, can influence stock valuations. Sometimes these ancillary factors can push stock valuations exceptionally low, which presents an intriguing buying opportunity for Wall Street and investors. On the other side of the coin, emotions and X factors can also push stock valuations into the stratosphere, well beyond the point where any rational fundamental theorist would dare go. At any given time, there are almost always going to be a few stocks that fall into the latter category of being ludicrously overvalued.
Though valuation is an entirely arbitrary process for each investor, the following three companies stand out for their frightening valuations compared to what they bring to the table.
It may not be a popular opinion, but one stock I'd crown as overvalued -- ludicrously so -- is electric-vehicle and solar-panel-installation company Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA).
What I will give Tesla is this: It's the first car company in decades to really build itself from the ground up and disrupt Detroit's big three automakers. The demand for Tesla's Model S and X, as well as initial orders for its cheaper Model 3 sedan, have been phenomenal and demonstrate the desire of Americans to own cleaner vehicles.
But what looks to be a good idea on paper has yet to translate into profits. Just days ago Tesla reported a 79% increase in automotive fourth-quarter revenue, but it still delivered an adjusted net loss of $106.6 million. Sure, that was a 60% narrower adjusted net loss from the prior-year quarter, but it's still a loss. In fact, the company burned through more than $448 million in cash flow during Q4 as it continued to ramp up the Gigafactory in preparation for the Model 3. Tesla ended the year with $3.39 billion in cash and cash equivalents, but has plans to spend $2 billion to $2.5 billion in capital expenditures in 2017. In other words, yet another cash raise may be in order.
Tesla's solar business -- it acquired SolarCity less than two months ago -- also languished. Tesla reported 201 MW of solar installation in Q4, which was almost 100 MW lower than what SolarCity had previously guided for. It's no secret that solar has been weak, but these figures are exceptionally weak.
A simple comparison of General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Tesla really shows how out in left field Tesla's valuation is at the moment. In 2016, General Motors sold nearly 10 million vehicles and generated nearly $9.12 billion in profit. In fact, it's currently valued at roughly six times its trailing 12-month earnings. By comparison, Tesla produced only around 90,000 vehicles and is losing money hand over fist, and its $41 billion valuation implies a market value of almost $500,000 per car! GM's $56 billion valuation and annual production of 10 million implies a valuation of approximately $5,600 per car produced. That difference is insane. Even with the two companies having very different business models, I don't see why any fundamental investors in their right minds would choose Tesla over GM.
Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd.
Just because a stock has a small-cap valuation doesn't mean it can't still be ludicrously overvalued. Next on the list is highly volatile developmental-stage mining company Northern Dynasty Minerals (NYSEMKT:NAK).
In recent months, Northern Dynasty Minerals' shares have caught fire with the expectation that the Trump administration would ease rules set in place by the Environment Protection Agency, possibly allowing the company to be permitted for the Pebble Project in Alaska. In theory, Pebble has enough assets in the ground to keep a mining company busy for upwards of 100 years. Gold and silver prices are also up nicely over the past two months.
Unfortunately, Northern Dynasty's dream of development seems to be more of a fairy tale. One of the bigger issues with Pebble is that the inferred assets in the ground are spread out. While abundant, many of these assets just haven't appeared to be economically feasible to recover. What's more, Northern Dynasty has already spent hundreds of millions just to get to the point where it's trying to determine if there are economically viable areas to mine in Pebble. Don't believe me? Here's a direct statement from the company's third-quarter report:
The Group's continuing operations and underlying value and recoverability of the amount shown for the Group's mineral property interests, is entirely dependent upon the existence of economically recoverable mineral reserves.
Making matters worse, Northern Dynasty Minerals has nowhere near the capitalization required to develop Pebble into a commercially viable operation (assuming recovery is even economically feasible). At the end of the third quarter, the company had less than $6 million in cash and cash equivalents left, although it did generate more than $32 million from a secondary offering in January 2017. Even so, this is laughably far off from the years and billions of dollars it would seemingly take to get Pebble up to commercial production.
Having been previously abandoned before by companies with pocketbooks that were far deeper than Northern Dynasty Minerals', Pebble is likely a dead duck, and Northern Dynasty's stock is potentially worthless.
Finally, even though it's not even officially public yet, Snapchat parent Snap Inc. (NYSE:SNAP) gets my vote for being ludicrously overvalued.
On one hand, I can understand the allure of a company like Snap considering how well Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has performed since it went public. In just three years, Snap has essentially tripled its daily active users from around 50 million to 158 million, and with the somewhat recent addition of advertising revenue, Snap's top line is surging. It generated $404.5 million in sales in 2016 after just $58 million in revenue in 2015. If Snap can use innovative new ad-targeting tools to reach a rapidly growing number of users, it could be Facebook 2.0, or so some pundits suggest.
However, as has been the theme here, I'd like to disagree. Snap's expected IPO price range, according to the company, values it as aggressively as $22 billion. At $22 billion, Snap is being valued at 54.4 times its total sales. I'm going to go ahead and repeat that for you who are skimming. That's 54 (fifty-four!) times sales. By comparison, Facebook and Twitter are currently valued at 14.2 and 4.5 times sales, respectively.
What's more, companies like Facebook have alternative revenue channels. Snap only began generating revenue from advertising two years ago, so it's entirely reliant on ads to generate its sales.
Of course, the coup de grace for Snap is that in spite of $404.5 million in sales, it wound up losing $514.6 million in 2016. This harks back to the dot-com bubble days, when companies simply spent every ounce of capital they had and assumed the economy and internet growth would buffer their risk-taking. At some point Wall Street is going to again shun companies that can't turn a profit (ahem, Tesla!), and I certainly wouldn't want any part of Snap when that day comes.
Sean Williams has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook, Tesla, and Twitter. It also recommends General Motors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.