What happened

Easy come, easy go. After enjoying a brief rally late last week on hopes that China's rolled-back zero-COVID policies might allow its economy to grow a bit faster -- and permit Tesla (TSLA -1.92%) to produce a few more electric cars there as supply chains unsnarl -- Tesla stock hit a bump in the road today. As of 1:05 p.m. ET, Tesla stock is down 4.6%

So what

The reason is a poll released by the international research data and analytics group YouGov.  

According to YouGov, Tesla is one of the most famous brands in the world today, with an astounding 97% of Americans surveyed having heard of Elon Musk's pioneering electric car company. Broken down by segments, only 28% of Americans have neutral feelings about Tesla, and even fewer -- 20% -- dislike Tesla. What seems to be worrying investors today, though, is media reporting that the number of Americans who actually like Tesla has fallen to 49%.

Barron's (for example) characterizes these latest numbers as meaning that "Tesla's brand image is in the red." Which is to say, the company's "positive" rating has fallen below 50%. This dip in approval of Tesla supposedly happened just recently, in December, and it's supposed to be bad news.  

Now what

But if you ask me, this single poll's result, and the media's reaction to it, smacks of mountains being made out of molehills.

While 49% approval is less than 50% approval, 49% approval is still more than twice the 20% of American consumers who say they now view Tesla negatively.

Consider, too, the demographics of YouGov's poll. According to the website, the younger you are, the more likely you are to view Tesla positively. Only 44% of baby boomers approve of Tesla, but 53% of millennials do. All things considered, for consumer products companies, it's probably better to be popular with consumers who have more shopping years ahead of them. So again, I'm not convinced that today's poll really qualifies as bad news.

For that matter, it may not qualify as "news," period. If you look closely, Tesla's popularity actually dipped to 45% in late summer, before stabilizing, rising, and passing 51% in the second half of the first quarter of 2022. Given that the previous 6-point rise in Tesla's popularity didn't generate headlines, I'm really not certain why today's 2-point decline is worrying investors so much.

When you get right down to it, Tesla's popularity has been waxing and waning for years. At 49% today, it's actually no worse than it was two years ago, back in the third quarter of 2020. But Tesla stock is selling for only 33 times forward earnings today, versus the 160 times forward earnings the stock averaged in Q3 2020, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence.

If you ask me, that's the real story about Tesla today: not that its brand is marginally less popular than it was a few weeks ago -- but that its stock hasn't been this cheap in years!