Tesla (TSLA 0.81%) is one of the worst-performing stocks of 2022. After an unrelenting rise over the past decade to a trillion-dollar market cap, the stock is down 55% this year and now sports a market cap of less than $500 billion. The current bear market, antics from CEO Elon Musk, and worries about a global recession have likely contributed to this decline.  

If you're reading this, your instinct might be to "buy the dip" on Tesla shares. But that instinct could be a mistake given the stock's current valuation. Here's why investors should avoid buying Tesla in 2023. 

Tesla's strong historical growth

Nobody can deny that Tesla has put up some fantastic growth numbers in the past few years. In 2020, the company went from generating consistent net losses to solid annual profits. Over the last 12 months, the business has generated a net income of $11.2 billion. This happened because the automotive manufacturer rapidly scaled up its production and deliveries, leading to operating leverage over its fixed cost base. For reference, in the third quarter of this year, Tesla delivered 344,000 cars to customers, which is up 250% from the 97,000 deliveries it made in Q3 2019.

With a huge opportunity to tackle the global transition to electric vehicles (EVs), many Tesla investors think this delivery and profit growth will continue over the next few years. But I think there are multiple reasons why things may materialize differently for the EV leader. 

Problems: Commodity costs, competition, management

On top of scaling up its manufacturing, Tesla has benefited from low commodity costs for its key supplies and pricing power for its vehicles, which both led to higher margins. The problem is, these benefits are now reversing. In China -- one of Tesla's largest markets -- the company recently lowered prices on some of its vehicles by 10%. With dozens of competitors planning to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into the EV market this decade, pricing pressure is highly likely to continue. That will hurt Tesla's profit margins in the future if it is forced to lower its selling prices.

On supplies, Tesla is going to face cost pressures from rising commodity prices. Metals like lithium and cobalt have gone up in price over the last year, an issue that will likely only get worse as so many companies start to invest in EV battery production. Commodity price increases haven't shown up on Tesla's financial statements yet, but should over the next few years as it signs new agreements with suppliers.

If margins deteriorate, this could quickly erode Tesla's net income growth, even if its overall revenue continues to march higher. For example, let's say that Tesla is able to generate $100 billion in revenue next year, which would be 33% higher than its trailing 12-month numbers. At its current net margin of 15%, that would equate to $15 billion in net income. But if margins were to decline to 8% due to lower selling prices and high commodity inputs, the company's net income will decline to $8 billion next year. 

Chart showing rise in Tesla's revenue, and much smaller rise in its net income, since 2020.

TSLA Net Income (TTM) data by YCharts

There are also issues concerning Tesla's eccentric CEO Elon Musk, who just purchased Twitter in a $44 billion acquisition. We don't need to go through all the details of that deal here, but suffice it to say Musk may not have his energy focused on Tesla at the moment. I don't believe it's a good thing for a fast-moving company to have its leader working on turning around another business. 

The valuation is not attractive

There are many looming issues at Tesla that should keep investors nervous, but the key reason to avoid the stock is its expensive valuation, especially compared to its automotive peers. At its current price, the stock has a trailing price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) hovering just below 50. Given the fierce competition in the automotive market, huge capital needs, and volatile commodity prices, automotive companies are trading at P/Es of around 10. For reference, the global automotive leader Toyota currently trades at a P/E just below 10. 

Chart showing fall in Tesla's PE ratio, compared to Toyota's steady PE ratio, in 2022.

TSLA PE Ratio data by YCharts

This means that if you are buying shares of Tesla today, a 5x increase in earnings is already likely priced into the stock. And remember, this is with the potential for margin deterioration over the next few years due to the reasons outlined in the above section. 

It isn't guaranteed that Tesla won't outperform these expectations, but I think there are less risky bets for investors to make today, especially in the current bear market. Avoiding shares of Tesla and putting your money in safer investments looks like the smart thing to do in 2023.