EVs

Is Musk losing it?

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Is Tesla CEO Elon Musk losing it? More senior resignations from accounting and HR this week  reveal more cracks in the automaker. He emailed a journalist, calling him a “mother f*cker”. He went further to say he hoped the cave rescuer he called a “”pedo” sued him because a UK man who is single and spent so much time in Thailand must be a child rapist.

He rattled off he had “secured” funding of $420/share to go private and then all of a sudden he didn’t, prompting the SEC to investigate. He was then on radio with comedian Joe Rogan toking what is reportedly a mixture of tobacco and marijuana. Are these the actions of a man running a $50bn market cap company?

Clearly his board can’t control him.  With the shares collapsing and bond prices falling, refinancing will become problematic. Chief  Accounting Officer Dave Morton quit the company after revealing his concerns about the various obstacles Tesla faces.

Tesla’s Chief People Officer, Gabrielle Toledano, took leave in August and said she wouldn’t be returning to Tesla.

Musk has been a genius and visionary to get Tesla where it is today. Yet he is a direct victim of his own hubris. Sleeping under boxes with Tesla bankrupt written on them to living on the factory roof to rattling off about production hell while accusing families of drivers dead due to over reliance in a system he aggressively promoted.Tesla was technically asking for suppliers to refund a portion of the monies they were paid since 2016 to the EV maker so it could post a profit which is borderline accounting manipulation in an attempt to give the impression of an ongoing concern.

He also complained at the lack of support in the media despite being called out on this nonsense.

Musk’s compensation is also linked to a $650bn market cap, which is effectively saying to the market that his company will be worth more than Daimler, BMW, VW, GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Renault, Fiat-Chrysler, Ferrari and Porsche combined. Just read that last sentence again. Do investors honestly believe that Tesla which consistently misses and is going up against companies that have been in the game for decades, seen brutal cycles, invest multiples more in technology and forgotten more than they remembered will somehow all become slaves to a company which has no technological advantages whatsoever?

The Tesla story is on the ropes. Expect more mega-releases on new products to try to keep the dream alive and the disciples faithful. I guess ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’ worked for The Beatles…

Musk to be investigated by SEC over tweets

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CM has always thought that Elon Musk is the ultimate salesman. CM has also wrote that the biggest risk to being a short seller was then”cult” status of the company. On any rational investment grounds the stock is ridiculously priced but as the old adage goes, “the market can stay irrational longer than you can remain solvent!

Tesla is a car company that is worth more than GM, Ford & FiatChrysler combined. One that trades at 5x Daimler in valuation terms, a luxury competitor that is in the sweet spot of its product line up and rudely profitable.

Back in June, Musk bought $35mn worth of shares in Tesla. The whole idea that someone is willing to fork out $75bn on a whim seems somewhat implausible. Is it safe to assume that all of 100s of lawyers, bankers and brokers would need a little bit of time to prepare the necessary documentation to cement such a ridiculous sum? Or is money now just so free and easy that a billionaire deploys a vault full of cash loaded full of Zero Halliburtons into a private jet after a few phone calls?

SEC enforcement attorneys had already been gathering general information about Tesla’s public statements on manufacturing goals and sales targets. Now SEC attorneys are investigating whether his tweets about securing funding were factual.

CM is not accusing Musk of insider trading albeit as a matter of course the SEC should investigate when he knew about his mega financier. One wonders how it is that we know so little about the buyer, the term sheet, the question of shareholder approval and how “secure” it is? Taking it private will remove the lens of quarterly reporting but it doesn’t remove the fact of how dreadfully the company is run or how amateur production is. Even if public scrutiny is removed, the problems of profitability don’t disappear and the need for funds, credit ratings etc if he taps public markets for debt capital remain.

If Musk pulls it all off and the company becomes a roaring success then CM will gladly eat a whole humble pie and openly admit it was wrong.

As to the SEC investigation let’s hope it has learnt the lessons of its bumbling incompetency over Bernie Madoff and doesn’t miss anything that might be bleeding obvious.

Tesla Q2 – Simple Minds

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When Simple Minds wrote the lyrics to Promised you a miracle, never could they have imagined Elon Musk could have used them to present his earnings release:
The original lyrics:
Promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As golden days break wondering
Chance as love takes a train
Summer breeze and brilliant light
Only love she sees
He controls on love
Love sails to a new life
Promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As golden days break wondering
Only love she sees
He controls on love
Life throws a curve
Everything is possible
With promises
Everything is possible
Oh
 
I promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As golden days break wondering
Chance reflects on them a while
Love screams so quietly
Slipping back on golden times
Breathing with sweet memories
I promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As golden days break wondering
Only love she sees

Perhaps Tesla’s Q2 lyrics may have gone:

 

Promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
Model 3 customers left wondering
Ever more cashflow down the drain
Suppliers freeze as they’re $3bn light
Only delayed payables do they see
Yet he controls the bluff
Profitabilty sails to a distant life
Promised you a miracle
Credibility is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As the golden payday keeps wandering
Only trust he pleas
He loses controls on Twitter
Life throws a curve
Sledging Thai rescuers is possible
With promises
Everything is possible
Oh
I promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As warranty provisions must take a hike
Investors reflect profits may take a while
Short sellers scream so quietly
Slipping back on golden times
Breathing with sweet memories
Banks were promised a profit miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As targets keep fumbling
Only wait another quarter he says.
CM has said time again that Musk is a brilliant salesman. How he has managed to build a debt edifice worth more than GM, Ford & Fiat-Chrysler combined is a testament. Musk has continually missed delivery on so many promises that there is little stock in backing anything he says.
He championed $2bn in cash & equivalents but leaves out $5bn in accounts payble and accrued liabilities. The cash isn’t “net”
The company still reported $739mn negative free cash. While the rate may have slowed from Q1 it is shockingly high. Is it any wonder letters were sent to suppliers in an attempt to massage the figures to make the numbers look optically pretty.
Tesla wrote, “We aim to increase production to 10,000 Model 3s per week as fast as we can. We believe that the majority of Tesla’s production lines will be ready to produce at this rate by end of this year, but we will still have to increase capacity in certain places and we will need our suppliers to meet this as well. As a result, we expect to hit this rate sometime next year.
The problem with this statement shows the naivety of Musk’s lack of knowledge on mars production. Profitability isn’t sustained by cranking to 10k/week if demand won’t be there when it hits that milestone. There are already flip-a-Model 3 websites littered with early adopters hoping to cash in on the initial euphoria. Yet if new stock is coming out that fast, many are likely to cancel orders because there is no arbitrage opportunity.
Customer deposits fell $42mn on the quarter. Tesla noted non-reservation orders are outstripping reservation orders. If reservation orders are stagnating because or cancellations or deliveries that is not a bold claim worth much. The company suggests it is no longer taking reservations in US or Canada because current supply can meet it but deposits would still be required to hold a car at a showroom before final payment so the customer deposit line should reflect that.
Even when CM ran the most optimistic of scenarios for Tesla, valuations would be mere fractions of what the stock trades today. Yet investors overlook the tsunami of new product from competitors made by brands who have spent decades perfecting production and have access to far superior distribution networks.
More smoke and mirrors. Simple Minds are all that is needed to read through the lines. Nothing remotely impressive with these numbers.
In closing, when the company talks of the ability to power slide the Model 3 when it has faced so much criticism over deaths related to false beliefs in its autopilot system you wonder whether Musk ever listens to legal advice? Well If he can blame the families of crash death victims it is clear he thinks of customers and investors as nothing more than beta testers. Then again if he can promise them miracles he is ultimately the winner if they buy into golden days.

Harley-Davidson to go into the Adventure category

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Actually credit where credit is due. Harley maybe very late to the party but realizes it must be bold to survive in the long run. Adventure (ADV) bikes (think of them as 2-wheeled SUVs)  are one of the most popular motorcycle segments now due to versatility but the competition is fierce and only getting moreso. Harley plans to launch a 1250cc ADV bike in 2020.

It is unlikely to cause segment leader BMW to quake in its boots with respect to its best seller GS series although the question is can the Harley brand can carry any sales at all? At the luxury end BMW, KTM, Ducati, Triumph, Moto Guzzi and Aprilia all have ADV bikes. BMW & KTM are the sales chart leaders. BMW for inventing the segment and KTM for strapping a 160hp nuke to its expertise in off road and 17 straight wins in the Paris-Dakar.

It is fast becoming a horsepower war. BMW is looking to launch a 145-150hp 1250cc next year for the GS from the 125hp 1170cc twin it currently has to keep up with the competition.

Without a spec sheet it is hard to tell much about the Harley ADV. It looks heavy. Weight matters. The BMW is around 240kg. The KTM 210kg. Will the Harley keep it under 260kg?

Horsepower is not a Harley strong suit. You won’t find power in a Harley spec sheet at the dealer. Will it use a clump of lazy torqued Milwaukee pig iron for an engine? In a low slung cruiser one can get away with it but in a tall ADV bike, when negotiating goat tracks (that’s a wide belly pan!), traction, power delivery and how a bike carries its weight is crucial. Can Harley produce over 120hp from this 1250cc engine with flexibility across the rev range? Will it be chain driven? Shaft? Belt? These things matter to the ADV snobs.

The design of the ADV Harley is certainly bold. CM likes it although if you drop it that headlight unit sure looks expensive to replace. Like many SUVs never see more off-road than a gravel driveway, the most dirt tracking Harley ADVs will see might be some road repairs on Route 66. The Pan America name certainly rings of highway biased use.

The next thing will be price. Even before (and after) we have full specs can Harley launch the bike at a competitive price? Harley can’t just rock up into a segment it’s never been active in and demand the type of premium it’s cruisers carry. It’s top of the line CVO series can be $50,000. BMW is considered the premium offering in ADV. Luxury Italian brand Ducati tried to price it slightly north and was caned in the sales race. KTMs are priced slightly cheaper but BMW remains king and having owned one know exactly why. The BMW is good at absolutely EVERYTHING.

Harley has history in new ventures. It broke the mold decades ago and took a stab at sports bikes with the Buell brand, but it was an abject failure. Porsche was called into help develop the V-Rod engine some 18 years ago but that is no longer sold.

Harley also aims to launch electric bikes, smaller 250-500cc categories for Asian markets and a mid range 500-1250cc for new sport type street fighters. All looks margin crushing from a distance.

From an investor perspective the accountants will require a lot of volume to justify the R&D expense. The shares closed toward the lows on the announcement.

Without getting too Harvard MBA, Harley feels extension of product is vital. To a degree it is right. Unfortunately graveyards for such strategies are too commonplace. Few get it right. Buell was case in point. BMWs K1600 Bagger will flop because it was an excuse trying to find a home for its 1600cc 6-cylinder regardless of capabilities. Customers see through this.

Harley’s ADV will have distribution channels as it’s biggest weapon. It will have a hard time converting ADV faithful unless it offers something truly better at a competitive price. Otherwise it will gather dust on showroom floors.

Personally this ADV will probably do better than most think. It won’t get close to toppling the Beemer but there are enough quirky people out there who want to be different. Nice job Harley but can it turn groups profitably around? The last 5 years have been a disaster. The question is all this product arrives at a time when the economy is likely to turn south.

If only Elon Musk could summon institutional questions

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Elon Musk has apparently terminated the question of a Bernstein analyst ((followed by the rest of the institutional queue) on the basis of it being “uncool”. He said, “We’re going to YouTube [for retail investors]. These questions are so dry. They’re killing me!” If only the Tesla CEO could summon the right type of questions that deflected criticism of the company as easily as maneuvering a parked Model S from a tight parking spot.

While he urged non-believers to sell the stock, there is little to be gained pushing a line of  opacity for a company with production issues, continuing losses and $10.6bn in debt. Earnings results are not about having fun but for investors/analysts to probe and qualify assumptions in the interest of making rational investment decisions.

CM has made constant reference to Musk’s amazing ability to sell. He is coming up to the pointy end of having to deliver. There are countless distractions which perculate below the surface – copyright infringement trial launched by Nikola Motor, the NTSB autopilot probe, countless resignations and recent calls to cut the staff canteen cookies. By blowing off the main investor pool that feeds him, the question of CEO capability becomes a bigger factor than the dreadful earnings themselves.

There is no better disinfectant than sunlight but Musk continues to deflect. Cash flow continues to decline  The production shutdown in April will thump Q2 earnings, not to mention the capex spend should rise plus the write off of equipment that has proven to be surplus to requirements. Here he is talking of 10,000 units a week down the line to fill the hearts of the faithful followers. Perhaps his comments about not needing to raise capital are best addressed by the fact he’s raised 7x since that statement.

Today’s results meeting is more telling in that snake oil salesman tactics of talking up the situation was replaced by silence and stonewalling. Telling.

Cutting back on the Tesla staff cookie tin

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Where have we heard this before? When companies look to tighten the belt, bosses often pat themselves on the back by cutting back on ‘unnecessary expenses’ like staff coffee room biscuits. That somehow over a 12 month period a company hemorrhaging millions has saved $832.67 on cookie cutting. Maybe $1,239.31 on fewer newspaper subscriptions. Well it seems Tesla’s Elon Musk is getting tough on approvals. Well he might especially after claims he doesn’t need a capital raise and made wise cracks about going bankrupt on April fool’s day.

Musk tweeted that his finance team were going to be out to trim back on any expense deemed not vital to the cause. All $1mn approvals must be solely signed off by the CEO himself. Suchnis the extent of ‘production hell’ he has moved to 24-7 shifts to hit his slated targets.

His email also bragged,

It is extremely rare for an automotive company to grow the production rate by over 100% from one year to the next. Moreover, there has simultaneously been a significant improvement in quality and build accuracy…

Indeed it is extremely rare to have auto companies doubling production year over year because most companies never plan to improvise their manufacturing  methods to start with. Toyota doesn’t meet a week before starting a new vehicle build and have a thought bubble. “Tanaka-san, did you get hold of Fanuc to see if they have any spare robots they can install by Friday?” Moreover the quality improvements are also a celebration of dreadful moving to mediocre. These aren’t achievements in any manufacturers book. They’re a candid admission of ‘amateur hour’

Musk continued,

Any Tesla department or supplier that is unable to do this will need to have a very good explanation why not, along with a plan for fixing the problem and present that to me directly. If anyone needs help achieving this, please let me know as soon as possible. We are going to find a way or make a way to get there.”

Seriously? It is a rather frightening prospect now that the CEO, whom took over the production floor several weeks ago, is sending a  crisis stations email to staff and suppliers.

His levels of lashing out of late seem somewhat concerning. Two weeks ago he accused the NTSB of lacking credibility by kicking off Tesla in the investigation panel into the recent death caused of a driver in California who had relied on autopilot Attaking the regulator is never a wise move. Worse, he blamed the driver in response to a lawsuit launched by the deceased’s family claiming he put too much faith in a system he champions as smarter than humans. Which is it?

Musk’s full letter to employees is here but perhaps he should take a lead out of the Riva Aquarama production line book. Carlo Riva built the Ferrari of yachts with excruciating attention to detail. All the different stages of production crew had different coloured jackets on. When looking out his window if he ever saw colours mingling he knew he had a problem.

Musk talks the confidence game but the pressure is bearing down on him. Senior departures, impending court actions and a production system that has been found wanting after such a short period of time that major changes need to be enacted because the original concept was so poorly thought out. So much for sensible factory capex allocation.

Elon Musk also made surprising remarks about the new found existence of sub suppliers. Musk can’t  lick his finger to find the direction of the wind forever. This is rookie level discovery. Frankly shareholders should be very concerned.

Tesla’s FY2017 – cashflow stunts bigger than a roadster in orbit

TESLA CF VS ONETEL

No beating around the bush. Tesla’s cash-flow situation resembles that of One.Tel in Australia before it became insolvent. Rocketing financing and investing cash-flow with troubled operating cash which in Tesla’s case was flattered by some accounting trickery.  The Q4 2017 earnings release spoke of fairies and magic pixie dust for the most part. Q1 deliveries to date look to undershoot.  Once again a promise to hit production of 2,500 Tesla Model 3s by the end of Q1 and 5,000 a week by end of Q2 2018 (i.e. 6 months away). Note that Tesla had about 860 undelivered Model 3 cars at the end of Q4. That is a high ratio given 1550 were shipped in Q4.

While the company claims a cash balance of $3.4bn which many will pop champagne corks over, Tesla has accrued liabilities, accounts payable and customer deposits totaling $4.975bn at quarter end. This also excludes the $608mn in extra ‘residual value guarantees’ on the books YoY.

The company expects to break even during the year. However with gross automotive margins about to suck up the Model 3 in larger numbers that will take some doing despite claims it can do 25% vs the existing line-up’s 18% range. As at January, Q1 sales in the US are at 2016 levels and European registrations are down around 14% in aggregate across Norway, Holland, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland. Lots can change but it doesn’t read well to kick off 2018’s challenge to break even at an operating level. The Model 3 is on average two-thirds cheaper than the average selling price on existing products so to even hold margins constant will take the mother of all cost cutting all the meanwhile facing new competition over 2018 which will weigh on pricing.

Interesting within the operating cash-flow statement is a term “Changes in operating assets and liabilities,net of effect of business combinations” which shows a quarter on quarter swing of $746.8m pushing net operating cash to +$509mn achieving a new quarterly record. This was achieved mainly by improved collection of receivables (believable), inventory reduction of finished vehicles (were incomplete vehicles that left the factory to parking lots yet to be delivered due to a lack of parts counted?), improved working capital from the ramp of Model 3, and growth in customer deposits (this was only  $168m QoQ vs expectations of $400m) from Semi and Roadsters that were announced with fanfare during Q4. Cash burn appeared lower because the company included customer deposits for the upcoming Semi and Roadster in its operating CF. That is slightly deceiving because deposits aren’t supposed to be drawn from current operations. The Roadster is supposed to be ready by 2020. This seems odd.

Tesla wrote “Despite the delays that we experienced in our production ramp, Model 3 net reservations remained stable in Q4.” Strange there was no mention of progress on Roadster and Semi orders in Q4. Was the $250,000 deposit within 10 days for the Founder series Roadster a bit steep? Truck orders seem around 600-700 at this stage and at $5,000 a deposit, generously speaking $3,500,000 isn’t a swing. As mentioned earlier the +$168m in customer deposits could only reflect how poorly orders for those vehicles are tracking such is the need to avoid talking about them in the statement (surely something to crow about) other than projected performance stats.

Capital expenditures in 2018 are projected to be slightly more than 2017 according to the statement. Tesla also mentioned “quarterly operating income should turn sustainably positive at some point in 2018.” That is a hugely optimistic target for the company which has failed so many times to deliver on promises. As CM always argues, the ‘cult’ following of Tesla is a dangerous vixen which can keep the ‘dream’ floating in orbit when reality is that “Nevada, we have a problem”.

The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent. The 3% bounce in the shares reflects that blind optimism. Our study shows that even if it made margins similar to mainstream makers it is grossly overvalued.