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Will Tesla Motors Make Earnings History Next Week?

By Tamara Walsh - Feb 12, 2014 at 6:00PM

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Tesla Motors will report fourth-quarter earnings next Wednesday, but investors may be in for a surprise.

Tesla Motors (TSLA -2.06%) has been on a tear lately. The company's move into China and a positive review from Consumer Reports helped push shares higher this week. The stock was trading in record territory ahead of the market's open today, after closing Tuesday at $196.62 per share. That's impressive for a stock that traded around $37 apiece only a year ago. What's more, Tesla is set to report its fourth-quarter earnings on Feb. 19, which means there could be even more upside for the stock in the week ahead.

Going the extra mile
Delivery numbers for Tesla's Model S will be the focal point when the electric-car maker reports next week. CEO Elon Musk has a reputation for under-promising and over-delivering, and investors are hoping that rings true in the company's upcoming earnings announcement. Here's what we know.

Last month, Tesla said that it expects Model S shipments in Q4 to beat the company's prior guidance by as much as 20%. The luxury EV maker also hinted that its sales in the quarter would be the highest in its history. Tesla gave a shout out to Panasonic in a company press release saying that Tesla was able to manufacture a higher number of cars in the period because of an "excellent effort" by the supplier.

Tesla said Model S deliveries in the period should total almost 6,900, significantly higher than previous forecasts for fewer than 6,000 vehicles. The company is also confident that it can achieve a 25% non-GAAP vehicle gross margin without help from sales of zero-emission-vehicle credits in the quarter. In the prior quarter, Tesla's gross margin increased to 21%, up from 14% in Q2.

However, investors might be pleasantly surprised if Tesla were able to sell more option-rich Model S cars in the period. That's because it would push Tesla's gross margin beyond its 25% target. Importantly, Model S gross margin should also benefit from improvements in manufacturing costs.

Source: Tesla Motors.

More efficient production levels are another reason to be optimistic about Tesla's upcoming earnings. If Tesla indeed delivered 6,900 Model S cars in the quarter then it would be an increase of more than 25% over the previous quarter's deliveries (5,500 vehicles). As production rates continue to improve in the quarters ahead, so too will economies of scale -- something that Tesla has lacked until now. If Tesla is able to follow through with its updated predictions, it will likely be a historic earnings report for the EV start-up.   

Despite these catalysts, I suspect we'll see some profit-taking because of the stock's recent run. However, that doesn't mean shares of Tesla won't continue to move higher in the quarters to come. The important thing for Foolish investors to remember is that Tesla's long-term-growth story is intact.

Tamara Rutter owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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