Tesla shareholders have been spending a lot of time following CEO Elon Musk’s grand play to buy Twitter. Come Wednesday night they’ll be focused once again on a company he already controls — Tesla itself.
Tesla (TSLA) reports first quarter results after the bell Wednesday. Analysts have a fairly bullish outlook for the companies’ results.
Tesla earnings are expected to jump 142% from a year ago. Other traditional automakers, such as General Motors, Ford (F), Toyota (TM) and Volkswagen (VLKAF), are all expected to report a drop in earnings — ranging from a 14% decline at VW to a 58% plunge at Ford (F) — due to supply chain and production problems.
But how the company does in the first quarter isn’t the biggest concern for Tesla shareholders. It’s what lies ahead for the company. Here’s a rundown of what to look for in its earnings report and call with investors.
Is Elon on the call?
Nine months ago, Musk announced he would generally stop participating in the quarterly call, saying it took too much of his time. That lasted exactly one quarter.
Now with concerns among some investors that Musk’s attention is being diverted by his bid for Twitter (TWTR), will he be on the call once again? There are risks for the company either way.
“From a perception standpoint, if he’s not on the call, it feeds into the thesis that he’s too busy with Twitter,” said Dan Ives, tech analyst with Wedbush Securities. At the same time, Musk can be a loose cannon on these calls.
During the early days of the pandemic in April 2020 he lashed out at stay-at-home orders in California that temporarily shut his main factory, calling them “fascist.” If he makes similar comments about far more stringent lockdown rules now in place in much of China, he could anger Chinese authorities, who could make life very difficult for Tesla in the world’s largest market for electric vehicles.
Speaking of which, investors will want to know what’s the outlook for production in China in the face of those lockdown orders.
Tesla is reported to have reopened its plant in Shanghai this week, though the company has yet to confirm that. Investors will want to know if it can stay open, and what is going on with the factories of suppliers of critical parts, such as batteries.
“The main focus of the earnings call must be around supply coming out of China,” said Ives. “That’s the biggest overhang for the stock right now. They’ve already lost about 50,000 cars of production so far in the second quarter. The question is are they going to give any guidance?”
Once upon a time, automakers lived and died by their internal combustion engines. Features such as fuel injection and measures such as horsepower were the keys to attracting buyers and getting top dollars.
Now in the age of EVs, it’s batteries and a new set of performance measures: How far can a car go on a single charge? How fast can it charge? And how much will it cost to build?
Tesla’s next generation battery is the 4680, which is expected to provide a breakthrough in both costs and the distance a vehicle can travel on a single charge. Tesla has only recently started using the battery in vehicles, and it is still only available in limited volumes.
The outlook for production of that battery, and the supply of chips and raw materials it needs to build them, is crucial for Tesla’s plans to increase vehicle production.
How fast it can ramp up production, particularly with the supply chain problems caused by China’s Covid lockdowns, and to a lesser extent the war in Ukraine, is crucially important if the company is to hit its growth targets for the year.
Beyond that, investors will probably be looking for more on the new products set to be built in Austin, namely the Cybertruck pickup and Tesla’s Semi truck. No significant production of either is expected before 2023 at the earliest, but it will be a bad sign if they are pushed back even further, especially with Ford and GM set to roll out their own electric trucks soon. The Ford 150 Lightning is due in showrooms this spring. The Silverado EV is due out next spring.
Tesla’s market cap is more than the combined value of the 12 largest automakers on the planet not because it is so much more profitable, but because of its growth projections. If it can’t stick to its better than 50% annual growth path, the company’s stock could take a tumble.
What will it mean for Tesla if Musk buys Twitter?
Finally, if Musk is on the call it will be particularly interesting to see if he makes any comments about his efforts to buy Twitter. So far his comments have been in broad strokes, not details.
And he hasn’t said anything about whether he plans to be involved in the day-to-day management of Twitter.
“There are worries about Musk, at a time he should be so focused on Tesla, how can he juggle so many balls?” said Ives.
Musk also hasn’t disclosed how he will finance his bid to buy the additional shares, which could cost in the neighborhood of $40 billion. Will he have to sell some of his Tesla stake to come up with the cash? If so, that would likely put downward pressure on Tesla’s share price.