Tesla is about to report earnings — here’s what to look for

Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
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Mike Blake/Reuters

  • Tesla is scheduled to report second-quarter earnings after the markets’ close in Wednesday.
  • Analysts expect a big loss for Tesla, but also an improving topline relative to Q2 2017 and Q1 2018.
  • Much attention will be focused on how CEO Elon Musk handles himself when he takes analysts questions after earnings are reported.

Tesla will report second-quarter earnings after the bell on Wednesday. Wall Street expectation are for a loss of around $2.88 per share, on revenue of nearly $4 billion.

Tesla has rarely posted positive quarterly earnings, so the loss shouldn’t be a shock, and the topline should come in much higher than a year ago.

In fact, the second quarter is something of a replay of the first, when Tesla actually beat expectations with a narrower loss than anticipated, on higher-than-predicted revenue.

At that time, Tesla shares remained stable until the subsequent conference call with analysts, when CEO Elon Musk threw a now-infamous tantrum and sent the stock spiraling down.

Since then, Musk’s conduct – and particularly his controversial tweeting – has been the subject of much discussion and investor consternation. Tesla shares, however, have been in a holding pattern, hanging out around $300. The stock has been effectively flat for the past three months, despite some moves up and down.

A few factors are obvious and will weigh on the reaction to Wednesday’s results. Tesla is building more vehicles as it ramps up production of its Model 3 sedan. The topline is staged for dramatic improvement in the second half – a period when Musk has said the company will swing to a profit. And the cash-burn remains intense, but Tesla hasn’t run out of money yet.

Let’s dive into a further breakdown of the key issues:


Which Elon Musk will show up for the earnings call?

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Mark Brake / Getty Images

Nobody has expected Tesla to post positive earnings thus far in 2018, so as an investment, the company is currently a waiting game.

Until the second half of 2018 shapes up, the markets haven’t had much to go on besides Musk’s at-times odd behavior.

His irritation with analysts questions on the Q1 call clearly spoiled what could have been a holding pattern result for the company, so eyes and ears will be on how he handles himself this time around.

We could witness a reversion to a classic Muskian tactic: misdirection by way of digression. Confrontationalism, frankly, isn’t the man’s style. On numerous past earnings calls, he’s indulged his mad-scientist/nutty-professor side and in response to questions about Tesla’s performance, guided analysts deep into the thickets of his own convoluted but usually interesting thinking.

This pattern soothes his ragged moods, so a revisiting could be the way to go.


It’s time for Tesla to tout its revenue.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

For a company who’s bottom line has been terrible for its entire existence, Tesla’s topline revenue is starting to look impressive.

This makes sense: when you build vehicles that cost anywhere from $50,000-$150,000 and you sell more than 100,000 of them annually, a lot of money is going to slosh through your balance sheet.

Tesla has been adding about $200 million to its topline every quarter for some time, but with the Model 3 picking up speed on the deliveries front, that figure could improve spectacularly in the next six months. Tesla has $5-billion quarters in its sights.

More revenue means that some of the pressure Tesla has been under to manage its cash position could ease; it might be able to post regularly quarterly profits, but it might be able to switch profits on and off by managing its spending through a given year.


The obsession with Model 3 production could begin to fade.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

In my decade-plus of covering the car business, I’ve never seen a vehicle so obsessively scrutinized as the Model 3. Normally, a carmaker announces a new vehicle and it just shows up. That’s been the pattern for more or less 100 years.

The Model 3 has been pondered in the same way some philosophers contemplate the meaning of life. It is, however, just a four-door sedan that happens to run on electricity.

Yes, it’s endured a fraught birth, but that’s nothing new for Tesla: the Model S and Model X also had rough first years. People forget this because Musk is such a celebrity, but in terms of the global auto industry, Tesla is tiny. Its lack of scale magnifies every misstep.

But at this point, Model 3 production looks to relatively sustainable at around 2,000 vehicles per week minimum. Sure, Tesla wants 5,000 per week, and by early 2019, that level could be where the company is reliably at.

But the disaster that was the Model 3’s launch – with barely any vehicles rolling off a balky assembly line for six months – is over.


News, news, news.

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YouTube/CBS This Morning

Unlike every other carmaker, Tesla trades on news. This is because other carmakers don’t generate much news that can be traded on.

This has changed a bit as Ford and General Motors have begin to tackle new businesses, such as self-driving cars. But by and large, Tesla generates all the buzz in the business, for better and for worse.

The first half of 2018 has seen a feeding frenzy on the company, as the media has drilled into everything that Tesla is doing. Most of the time, analysts tune this noise out and focus on the signal of financial results, leading to the well-established very boring earnings call.

That’s even less likely to happen with Q2 than it has been in the past. It remains to be seen whether Musk and his executives will decline to comment or take the bait.


Those other businesses that aren’t cars.

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Tesla

Beyond electric cars, Tesla is also a solar-and-energy storage company. Neither business has attracted much attention from investors of late – a logical outcome, as nearly all the revenue is coming from the vehicle side.

But due to Tesla’s taking on SolarCity’s debt after it acquired the company in 2016, there could be some questions about how that business is going and what the deal is with teh showcase new product, the Tesla Solar Roof.


A capital raise and new vehicles.

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Tesla

Musk has said that Tesla won’t need to raise any new capital in 2018, a pledge that has been met with skepticism, given that the company has less than $3 billion in cash in hand.

Somebody will certainly ask about it, and the best bet is that Musk will again say it’s not needed. And move on.

More bullish analysts could also throw out some questions about new products, such as the Tesla Semi and the new Roadster.

The Roadster, in particular, has been under the radar since its reveal last year. That’s a shame because this is Tesla’s Ferrari and even at limited levels of production should be highly profitable.