Until very recently, Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA ) had survived the bear market better than most of its peers. That changed on Dec. 13 and TSLA stock has been making up for lost time since then.
Tesla stock returns from Christmas break about five bucks below $300, having lost 20.8% while the Nasdaq Compositeindex shed 12.1%. For the year, TSLA shares are down 6.9% against the broader Nasdaq's 12.4% loss.
If economic times are about to get tough, Tesla stock should be crashing. It's a luxury brand. The $7,500 buyer tax incentive disappears with the new year. It has yet to turn a profit and is still selling for close to 4 times its 2018 sales while every other car company sells at a tiny fraction of its sales.
Yet the stock stays relatively strong. What gives? Why all this bullishness?
The Tesla Bull
Elon Musk's base looks stronger than Donald Trump's, treating every rumor as a done deal. Case in point, the recent report that Tesla may buy an Ohio factory being closed by General Motors (NYSE: GM ). Elon's base insists European sales will save any momentum lost in the U.S. They assume the company will turn in its first profit, $1 per share of TSLA stock, when it next reports earnings January 23. They treat its coming China factory as money in the bank. Meanwhile, Trump's base is just coming to grips with the reality that Mexico's not going to be paying for the wall.
Tesla bulls have a great reality distortion field. They ignore competition, whether from established car companies or startups. They assume Model 3 demand will remain strong, despite a complete lack of evidence.
It's true that despite problems that would kill an ordinary company, from manufacturing hell to the CEO smoking pot on a podcast, Tesla more than doubled revenue in just six months and has an honest-to-goodness profit machine in its PowerWall, which has proven itself in the market for utility back-up.
But batteries are still a sideline, according to the company's third quarter repor t. About $400 million came in from "energy generation and storage" during the last quarter, the company said, while auto revenue came in at more than $6 billion.
Musk's Cult of Personality
Despite naming Robyn Denholm as board chairman in November, Tesla is still Elon Musk and Elon Musk is still Tesla. If a Model 3 ran over Musk tomorrow, the TSLA stock would lose half its value before the car's next recharge.
Musk creates the reality distortion field that lets investors ignore bullish analysts turning bearish . He makes it possible to ignore that Tesla is building the wrong electric cars in China in order to serve the country's wealthy elites.
Because of Elon Musk, Tesla shareholders hang on to every headline about the Boring Company even though Tesla doesn't own any of it. The same is true for SpaceX. There's an assumption that, if Tesla got into real trouble, Musk would fold one or both start-ups into it as he did with SolarCity. It's an assumption for which there is no evidence.
The Bottom Line on Tesla Stock
For those who see the current bear market as an aberration of the news and not a harbinger of an economic fall, TSLA is Exhibit A.
The company's potential profit shouldn't be keeping the Tesla stock price up - Ford Motor (NYSE: F ) is just as profitable and is being treated as bankrupt, even though it has long-term debt of just $12 billion on $258 billion in assets. Meanwhile, Tesla has long-term debt of $9.6 billion on $29 billion in assets. (I recently sold out my own position in Ford.)
If we're heading into recession, Tesla stock should be much, much cheaper. The fact that it's not is what cash-heavy investors are hanging their hats on as they look for bargains in the bear market wreckage. All stock buyers are now in Musk's reality distortion field.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of a new mystery thriller, The Reluctant Detective Finds Her Family , available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn . As of this writing he owned no shares in companies mentioned in this story.
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