According to Jason Calacanis, who bills himself as an "angel investor, entrepreneur, conference host, and podcaster," Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)will spend $75 billion to acquire Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) within the next year-and-a-half. While he listed a number of reasons for such a deal, his primary argument is that "once the [Tesla] Model 3 hits the road, Tesla's market cap would make a deal with Apple a merger -- not an acquisition."
In other words, Calacanis expects such a sharp upturn in Tesla financials once it launches the more affordable Model 3 car that its market capitalization could be well north of what even Apple could afford -- assuming, of course, Apple even wants to buy Tesla.
But this seems highly implausible to me.
Tesla is already quite richly valued
The first fundamental flaw with this claim is the idea that Tesla financials and market capitalization will skyrocket once the company is delivering relatively affordable electric vehicles in significant volumes. I would argue the current $25 billion market capitalization already bakes in some pretty high investor expectations.
To put this into perspective, current analyst consensus for Ford 2015 revenue -- keep in mind that Ford is already in the high-volume, mainstream automobile game -- sits at $143.7 billion, and its market capitalization is just shy of $64 billion as of this writing. Tesla trades at approximately 39% of Ford's market capitalization even though the upstart carmaker is projected to generate just 4% of its 2015 revenue.
Of course, Tesla is a much higher-growth company, and it is far "sexier" than Ford, so I do not take issue with Tesla getting a richer valuation. The problem, though, is that the stock price today -- at least, from what I can tell -- already bakes in a lot of future success.
That means when or if Tesla succeeds in driving more volume and growing its revenue significantly, the financials might improve, but I am not convinced this could lead to the huge growth in the stock price that Calacanis predicts.
Apple would be better off buying its own stock
If Apple were to drop $75 billion on Tesla today (a three times premium to the current market capitalization), it is highly questionable as to when the company could see a return on that investment. Tesla has outright stated it does not expect to be profitable on a GAAP basis until 2020.
In this scenario, not only would Apple have to wait five years before a single cent of profit showed up on the income statement, but Tesla operations could actually drag on Apple. If the company owns Tesla, and Tesla is losing money, then that comes straight out of Apple financials.
Additionally, since Apple would need to buy Tesla with U.S.-based cash or with stock, the deal would either force the tech giant to issue shares, undoing the benefits of previous stock repurchases, or to issue a hefty amount of debt, which means paying interest on that debt. Alternatively, Apple could repatriate its foreign-held cash and get hit with a huge tax bill, but that would probably be the least likely option.
If Apple is really itching to spend $75 billion on something, it would be far better for the company to simply buy back stock. At least in this case, Apple would shrink the number of shares outstanding, immediately providing a meaningful boost to earnings per share. In my humble view, that would certainly be a quicker and easier way to juice the bottom line than to spend an exorbitant amount of money on Tesla.