Tesla stock plunges as investors fear Twitter dramas, loss of China sales

Tesla shares fell 8.12% Tuesday after Wall Street downgraded price targets on the electric vehicle maker’s stock. Analysts fear that CEO Elon Musk is distracted by his hostile takeover and micromanagement of Twitter, and that China sales will be affected by the Chinese government allowing COVID-19 to spread after ending its stance on harsh restrictions.

Tesla’s shares hit a more than two-year low of $138 at the time this article was published.

Analysts say investors are concerned Musk will sell more shares of Tesla to fund Twitter, and that his antics on the social media platform are hurting the EV maker’s brand. Last week Musk sold around $3.5 billion worth of shares, one of many stock dumps the CEO has done this year.

Some investors are calling on Tesla’s board of directors to replace Musk as CEO, to step in and protect shareholders from the stock drop.

“Tesla stock price now reflects the value of having no CEO. Great job tesla BOD – Time for a shake up,” tweeted Ross Gerber, a portfolio manager at Gerber Kawasaki.

It’s not yet clear if Tesla EV sales have been affected by consumer sentiment about Musk’s Twitter involvement — after all, Teslas are still widely considered to be good automobiles by all metrics of battery range, performance, technology and safety. We’ll have to wait for January to see 2022’s fourth-quarter numbers.

The worries about China sales are warranted though, says Gordon Johnson, CEO and founder at GLJ Research and Tesla bear. During a Twitter Spaces event Tuesday, Johnson noted that China is Tesla’s largest and most profitable market.

It’s difficult to find regional breakdowns of Tesla units sold per quarter, but the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA) keeps track of monthly sales. The CPCA reported that Tesla delivered 28,217 EVs from its Shanghai plant in July (a low number due to factory line upgrades); 76,965 in August; and 83,135 in September, totaling 188,317 units sold in China in the third quarter. That’s a little more than half of all units sold worldwide — or 343,830 units — in Q3.

China’s rates of EV adoption are higher than in the U.S. and Europe, so it naturally makes up a larger portion of Tesla’s global sales. Investors fear a drop in those sales in the coming months as COVID-19 threatens to ravage the country following the Chinese government’s complete reversal on its previous draconian restrictions. If that happens, Tesla will need to rely more on its Western markets, where the Twitter dilemma could cause problems.

“Is the Tesla EV brand being impacted by all this Twitter drama, meaning all the controversy?” said Gary Black, a managing partner of the Future Fund during a Twitter Spaces session Tuesday. Black, who owns about $50 million in Tesla stock, said in August that Tesla is the fund’s largest position.

“Is it causing people to either cancel their orders or not order Teslas or, you know, just causing the brand to fall out of favor among people who buy EVs? I don’t see it, but that’s one of the worries that institutional investors are asking me.”

Black said he does believe eventually Musk’s personality, in particular his political rhetoric that rants about the “woke mind virus,” will have an impact on the brand “if [Musk] doesn’t stop.” He went on to say he’d advise the board to “pull Elon aside and say, look, you may have these political views, but you’re not helping the Tesla brand by articulating them.”

“I don’t know what he gets out of insulting his client base on the left,” said Black.

Musk recently posted a Twitter poll asking if he should step down as CEO of the social media platform, and said he would abide by the results of the poll. Voters voted in favor of him leaving, prompting Musk to say he believes bots rigged the poll. There have been reports that Musk is looking for a new CEO, but he has not yet affirmed this.

Black said the uncertainty around whether Musk will make good on his word is one of the reasons investors are selling Tesla stock.

Like many other investors, Black also called on Musk and Tesla to buy back some of the stock, saying there’s no better way to demonstrate that he believes the stock is too cheap.

Johnson said the stock, which is priced higher than General Motors, Ford and Stellantis combined, is overvalued largely due to advancements Musk has promised but has not yet delivered.

“I believe the reason why Tesla went so high is because Musk said that he would have cars that can drive with optical cameras. He has not done that,” said Johnson. “He said he would have a [battery technology] that would deliver a $25,000 car. He has not done that. He said he was a silicon innovator. He’s not. He said he was the world leader in biped robotics. He’s not. I believe these promises combined with quantitative easing is what drove the stock higher, not Tesla’s execution.”

Now that the stock price is coming down, Johnson implied it’s possible investors are not just spooked by the current situations with Twitter and in China, but they’re realizing that Tesla is an automaker like any other at the end of the day, and its stock should reflect that.

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