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Tesla Missed Earnings in Q4 -- but Not All the News Was Bad

By Rich Smith - Updated Jan 29, 2021 at 10:51AM

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Yes, profits for the electric vehicle maker "missed" expectations -- but they also doubled.

Shares of electric car maker Tesla (TSLA 1.29%) sank more than 5% in after-hours trading Wednesday following the release of earnings that investors saw as subpar.  

Analysts expected Tesla to report $1.01 per share in pro forma profits for its fiscal fourth quarter of 2020. Tesla said it earned only $0.80 per share, despite quarterly sales coming in at a stronger-than-expected $10.7 billion -- up 46% year over year. Pro forma profits also roughly doubled (up 95%), while GAAP profits more than doubled to $0.24 per share (up 118%).  

Tesla Model 3.

Image Credit: Tesla.

GAAP profits -- profits per diluted share as calculated according to generally accepted accounting principles -- have now come in positive for six straight quarters at Tesla.

The year 2020 was also Tesla's first where it reported both pro forma and GAAP profits for a full fiscal year. Tesla booked $31.5 billion in total revenue in 2020, a 28% year-over-year increase. GAAP gross profit margins on that revenue leaped to 21% after three straight years of declines. The company's net profit for the year was $0.64 per share ($2.24 per share, pro forma).

It was also Tesla's second year in a row of generating positive free cash flow. This yardstick is important for a company that has and might again raise capital through share issuances, though it doesn't currently need to sell shares to remain solvent. Tesla generated $2.8 billion in cash profits last year, up 158% from the $1.1 billion in free cash flow generated in 2019. The company ended the year with a cash war chest of $19.4 billion.

This final figure includes all $10 billion in cash raised through share issuances of Tesla stock in the final four months of 2020.

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