Business activity can't return to normal until the COVID-19 pandemic passes. Tesla (TSLA 2.51%) is waiting for that moment, after it had to shut down nonessential operations at its Fremont facility in California. But when companies can once again get back to work, Tesla's current strengths suggest that investors may wish they'd invested in the all-electric automaker now.
Incredible revenue growth
At least until the pandemic hit, Tesla was achieving remarkable growth in revenue. It grew at a compounded annual rate of 57% over the last four years, led by the introduction of the new Model 3 sedan. At this rate, Tesla's revenue will double every one-and-a-half years. How much longer this level of growth can go on remains to be seen.
But with the popularity of Model 3, the deliveries of the new Model Y ahead of schedule, and the Cybertruck coming in 2021, it appears there is more runway for growth when economic activity returns to normal.
Moreover, in its first quarter of 2020, the company delivered 88,400 cars and produced nearly 103,000. "This was our best ever first-quarter performance," the company announced. The production figure alone is a 34% increase from the first quarter of 2019.
Importantly, customer demand may well be hurt in the next quarter or more because of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, Tesla shares' roughly 50% drop from their recent highs in mid-February could mean the market's already pricing in that risk.
A factory addition in Shanghai will add a great deal of efficiency for Tesla. Before the addition, when the company sold a car to a consumer in China, it had to ship the vehicle from its California facility to the buyer. The process was inefficient not only because of the cost of shipping, but also the time it takes for a customer to receive the order. In its most recent conference call, CEO Musk said, "I feel there is a pretty big fundamental efficiency gain."
Furthermore, the facility will add the capacity to make 150,000 additional Model 3's to start, and will increase capacity soon after. The combined production is better for the company, since it appears to be selling as many cars as it can make, at least for the time being.
What's more, the introduction and the ramping up of the Model Y in January 2020 -- and the expectation that the model will generate sales levels similar to the Model 3 -- means more production capacity might be necessary. That may be why Tesla has begun construction of a factory in Berlin that will add capacity and is expected to be completed in 2021.
The risk remains that factories and production will be shut down for a quarter or more because of the coronavirus pandemic. Investors should be aware there will be short-term disruptions, so this might be an opportunity to start accumulating Tesla shares at a lower price.
Reinforced balance sheet
In its most recent conference call in late January, Tesla made clear it did not think that selling additional common stock is something it wanted to do at the time. Just a few weeks later, in mid-February, the company announced it was selling $2.3 billion in common stock in a public offering.
The company faced criticism for the incongruency, but circumstances changed between the time of the offering and the time of the conference call. For one, the stock price ran up from around $500 at the time of the call to an issue price of $767, which allowed for more than triple the amount of money to be raised for a set number of shares. Secondly, the rapidly evolving consequences of the coronavirus outbreak took a turn for the worse.
Now, the sale is appearing to be timely as the price of the stock has dropped roughly 40% from the issue price, and the company had to close its Fremont facility for an unknown amount of time. Tesla's balance sheet now has over $8 billion in cash, which appears to be enough to get through the shutdowns without having to raise more capital.
What this means for investors
The coronavirus pandemic is causing havoc around the world. Businesses are dealing with a crisis of an unprecedented level. No one knows when or if economic activity will return to normal, and investors must keep that in mind.