Markets

Tesla Stock: Headed to $300?

One analyst thinks Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) shares are significantly overvalued. He has a 12-month price target on the stock of $300, implying more than 60% downside from the stock's price of about $820 at the time of this writing.

While the analyst's price target suggests investors should stay far away from the electric-car maker's stock, there's an interesting bullish silver lining in his bearish take if you look closely.

A white Tesla Model Y with a paddle board on it

Model Y. Image source: Tesla.

The most valuable automobile company in the world?

Barclays' note about Tesla stock this week actually gives investors in the automaker several reasons to be incrementally upbeat about the company. First, his $300 price target is a huge jump from where it was previously -- $230. In other words, the company's recent execution has Barclays analyst Brian Johnson now thinking the stock is 30% more valuable than his estimates called for the last time he updated his rating on the stock.

Second, he had some optimistic views to share in his note on Thursday, saying that the company's better-than-expected third-quarter deliveries may have helped drive robust operating leverage during the period. He also notes the company's impressive ability to navigate chip shortages, growing deliveries significantly while many other automakers were negatively impacted by the situation.

So why is he so pessimistic about the stock? He remains skeptical on Tesla's "sky-high market cap."

Finally, as Barron's author Al Root pointed out on Thursday, now even one of Tesla's biggest bears thinks the company is the most valuable automotive company in the world. Johnson's price target implies approximately a $300 billion valuation -- higher than Toyota Motor's market capitalization of about $285 billion.

Should Tesla investors sell?

Still, is Johnson onto something regarding Tesla's sky-high valuation?

Investors should think twice before they sell Tesla stock, despite its high valuation. Since shares aren't liquid, investors often overthink whether they should take a profit.

Consider a different perspective: If this were a privately held company in which you were the sole owner, would you want to begin looking to find a buyer so you can dispose of the asset, even as trailing-12-month deliveries are up 87% year over year and both net income and free cash flow are soaring?

Sure, Tesla's trailing-12-month free cash flow of $2.6 billion is extremely small, relative to the company's approximately $820 billion market cap. But if deliveries continue to grow about 50% annually for the foreseeable future, as management expects they will, and if the company's operating margin expands meaningfully as Tesla scales, this could be just the tip of the iceberg for the company's free cash flow and profits.

While there are no guarantees for any stock, investors may want to avoid giving Johnson's price target too much weight. Instead, they may want to consider taking time to mull over the surprising upward trajectory of his views for the company recently. If anything, the analyst's upgraded view may offer an incremental reason to keep holding shares instead of selling them.

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Daniel Sparks has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. His clients may own shares of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla. The Motley Fool recommends Barclays. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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