Elon’s Galactic Distraction
At 5:51 am ET, on March 3, 2019, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon unmanned spacecraft docked successfully with the international Space Station. This is an incredibly impressive achievement for chief executive officer Elon Musk, his team and the American space agency. However, as Elon’s celebrity status reaches newfound heights, many believe Tesla is falling apart back here on Terra Firma.
Last week, Musk caught many of Tesla’s employees off guard with his announcement that the electric-car manufacturer would close down the majority of its stores, choosing to revert to an online-only only sales model. As news of these looming closures began to emerge, people with ties to the company began to fear the worst. Alec Chalekian, CEO of Lake Avenue Financial in Pasadena, California, who manages over $150 million in client assets, sold it all off on Friday as he voiced his worries that this decision by Musk signals a “huge financial concern and a possible cash-flow issue fro Tesla”. Tesla had only recently been “talking about expanding stores, and all of a sudden they are closing them”, this has caused Chalekian’s suspicions to rise resulting in him to reinvest his assets, that were initially with Tesla, elsewhere.
Tesla’s stock has dropped almost 11% in a matter of days, resulting in a loss of almost $6 billion from their market value and it’s share price dropping to $282.83, the lowest it has been since October 22, 2018. Musk’s decision seems to have come out of nowhere. In the last quarter alone, according to its letter to shareholders, Tesla opened 27 new retail centers. This was the most openings for a quarter since mid-2017, which makes their decision to close all of these stores down even more peculiar.
Musk himself tried to justify his seemingly rash decision to close the stores as a cost-cutting move that will enable Tesla to offer a long-promised version of the Model 3 sedan that will retail at $35000, if this model goes ahead it will be the company’s first mass manufactured car. Tesla anticipate that their decision to operate all their sales through an online platform will reduce the prices of all their vehicles by an average of approximately 6%. 78% of Model 3 orders were placed online last year which has encouraged Musk to make this decision.
Days after Musk tweeted that the cheaper Model 3 is available to order, he announced that Tesla plan to unveil the Model Y on March 14, followed by a a truck later in the year. Chalekian has voiced concerns that “the Model Y is probably going to eat into Model 3 sales”, “with all of the stuff going on right now, [he doesn’t] know if people are going to race to put a deposit on the Y in the way they did with the 3. But Tesla is using this to raise capital through customer deposits. [He feels] like Tesla is just buying time at this point.”
Many people in the financial world fear the worst for Tesla. Prominent short seller, Whitney Tilson posted a severely critical takedown of Tesla online on Monday morning. Tilson did admit that he has been a fan of Musk and has admired some of his feats, but due to “weak” demand and the “piling up” of inventories, Tilson had decided to short the stock. He also offered an ominous prediction that by the years end, Tesla’s stock will be trading below $100. He regards last Friday as “the beginning of the end for Tesla’s stock, saying that he believes “Musk has no more rabbits to pull out of his hat and therefore it’s all downhill from here”.
With its falling market value, share prices dropping and skepticism surrounding their upcoming projects, are Tesla’s days numbered, or does Elon have one last trick up his sleeve?