Shares of Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) have skyrocketed recently. The stock is up more than 110% over the past three months, giving the company a market capitalization of about $96 billion. That compares with Ford's market capitalization of $37 billion and General Motors' of $50 billion. In other words, Tesla's market cap is now approximately $9 billion higher than Ford and General Motors' combined market cap.
But what exactly is behind this epic rise? Sure, a short squeeze, as short-sellers rush to cover their positions, is likely driving a good portion of the stock's wild run-up (particularly the stock's nearly 50% gain in the past 30 days alone). But there are also some underlying business factors that have likely served as key catalysts for the market's bullishness for the electric-car maker's stock recently.
Here's a look at those factors.
1. Surging Model 3 deliveries
Tesla's Model 3 deliveries soared in 2019, validating the new vehicle's appeal to a much larger audience than the automaker previously served. Total Model 3 deliveries during the year were about 301,000 -- up from 146,000 in 2018. Furthermore, Model 3 deliveries in 2019 dwarfed peak Model S and X deliveries in 2017 of just over 100,000.
With Model 3 sales soaring in 2019, Tesla's total vehicle sales jumped 50% year over year to nearly 368,000 -- a figure that is within the initial guidance range the automaker had forecast at the beginning of the year.
2. The start of production in China
Investors have also applauded Tesla's achievement of bringing online a new vehicle factory in Shanghai -- from breaking ground to the start of production -- in under 12 months. After breaking ground in January 2019, the company started production at the factory toward the end of the year and had built "just under 1,000 customer salable cars" by this Jan. 3. In addition, a few days into 2020 the company said the factory had reached a production run-rate capability of 3,000 units per week when excluding local battery pack production. Battery production in the market started in late December.
3. Positive free cash flow
Tesla's free cash flow has turned a corner recently, going from negative $222 million in 2018 to positive $872 in the trailing-12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2019. Further, the company expects to remain free cash flow positive in most quarters going forward.
4. Becoming self-funding
Thanks to Tesla's improved economies of scale as production rises, management is more confident in the company's ability to fund its operations with cash from operations.
"[We expect positive] quarterly free cash flow going forward, with possible temporary exceptions, particularly around the launch and ramp of new products. We continue to believe our business has grown to the point of being self-funding," Tesla said in its third-quarter update.
This means Tesla shouldn't be as dependent on equity raises and debt in the future as it has been in the past.
5. Big plans for 2020
Finally, Tesla has some ambitious plans for 2020. Namely, the company said in its third-quarter update that it was ahead of schedule for Model Y production and expects to launch the vehicle this summer. In addition, Tesla is planning limited production of its new Tesla Semi before the end of the year.
Of course, the stock's skyrocketing value only adds to the pressure for the automaker to deliver on these important plans.