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Apple to buy Tesla? Is Tim Cook on autopilot?

If Apple truly stumped up for Tesla that would make two companies that are complete novices at auto manufacturing. It would be the Apple Lisa of the auto world.

Worse for Apple it would signal that the world’s largest company is completely out of creative ideas and its existing product line up was truly approaching stall speed. It already is but and the lack of transparency only adds to doubts.

Rumours circulated that Apple considered a $240/share purchase back in 2013. 6 years ago Tesla was full of hope. Now the stock is full of hype. It has been a litany of disasters from fatal crashes, production hell all the way to complete wishful thinking on Level 5 autonomous driving which Israeli company Mobileye, a leader in the field, believes is decades off.

Let’s assume a $240 per share deal was done. Apple would pay around $40bn and assume another $12bn or so in debt.

The most dangerous strategy for highly successful companies is to throw spaghetti at a wall and hope some sticks. Tesla is by no means an overnight repair job. It needs the skills of Toyota to turn it around. Don’t forget Apple has no manufacturing expertise as its products are all built by 3rd parties. Toyota rescued Porsche several decades back and Lockheed Martin called in the production efficiency king to help build the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter better.

It reminds CM of the time Hoya bought Pentax back in 2007. Such was the earnings dilution against the incumbent high margin business, hunting for growth sent Hoya shares down 50% soon after the deal. Hoya was completely dominant in glass photomasks. Yet the $1bn merger of a 2’d tier camera/optics maker was thought of by the founder’s grandson as a total failure and divested many divisions.

Losses continue to mount at Tesla, senior management departures are a revolving door and demand is slowing. The recent cap raise sees investors well under water. The Maxwell Tech deal looks a dud for the management to accept an all share rather than an all share deal (if the tech is so leading edge).

If Apple truly wanted a car deal, it could buy an established maker like Fiat Chrysler with decades of production expertise and global reach for half the price. Not to mention a wide choice of vehicle styles to broaden the appeal to customers.

Although the history of car mergers, even between industry players, has led to some pretty disastrous outcomes. Daimler overpaid for Chrysler so badly that its shares cratered 80%. BMW bought Rover from Honda. Fail. Even Land Rover had to be sold by the Bavarians. Ford ended up selling most of its Premier Automotive Group stable – Aston, Lincoln, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. Just Lincoln remains.

Tech companies meddling in the automobile sector reveals a graveyard of sad stories. Korean analysts jumped for joy when Bosch sold out its stake in the Li-ion batteries JV SB Li-motive. How could a Korean tech company proclaim to have a better read on the global auto industry than Bosch, a supplier to the major auto makers for over 100 years? Panasonic is already kicking itself hrs over the Tesla deal and management is highly unimpressed with Musk after his disparaging remarks made about production.

Have investors ever wondered why Tesla has no mainstream suppliers? Many are obscure parts companies from Taiwan. More established auto suppliers have been burnt by experiments before and they’ll only sign up for makers who have much better prospects and track records.

If anyone thinks Apple buying Tesla makes sense they need their heads read. The last 6 years have detracted value. Pre-pubescent fund managers who have never seen a cycle might see the value of millennial nirvana but the damage to Apple would be considerable. Just because Apple has been so successful doesn’t mean it won’t make mistakes. Tesla would be a disaster. It is in the product creativity blackhole of following the path of Hoya. It would be better to flutter at a casino.

Was Tesla/Maxwell deal smart?

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Tesla (TSLA) has bought Maxwell (MXWL) for an all-stock transaction at US$288m notional value. The question is why any company would accept an all share transaction from a chronic loss-making company to buy its supposedly “amazing” futuristic dry capacitor technology? Are shareholders of MXWL as hooked into the EV cult as those at Tesla? Clearly not all of them. A group of MXWL investors launched a class action to block the deal. Sadly they failed.

If the management of Maxwell truly believed this deal was a winner and the technology was game-changing, why not demand cash? Why didn’t Tesla invite Panasonic’s battery boffins to assess whether the technology had merit? One must question how good is Maxwell’s IP to only find one buyer and for an all share deal? Where were the private equity (PE) vultures circling? How little confidence in one’s product or how much faith in Musk’s cult-like status to fall for such terms?

Maxwell at the 9 month FY2018 stage reported US$91.6mn (-8%YoY) in revenue and a net loss of $30.2mn. Cash halved from $50.122m in 9M 2017 to $23.561mn 9M 2018. The company did sell its high voltage product line to Renaissance Investment Foundation for $55mn with a 2-year $15mn earn out. That involved an upfront payment of $48m making pro-forma cash as at Sep 30, 2018, total $69mn. The company has an accumulated deficit of $277mn.

While the two companies had been in conversation for several years, Musk seemed to get serious in December 2018.

Forget the technological merits of Maxwell. It is easy to work out the quality of the deal based on the structure and the lack of appetite from the mega battery makers or PE firms to validate it. There is no way that MXWL didn’t show its wares to the majors. Given the deal was announced in February 2019, the EV battery and PE world would have at the very least done some back of the envelope calculations to value the business.

All that Musk has done has absorbed another loss-making business into the same cult and give himself another “dream” to add to the smoke and mirrors story.

Maxwell’s management must have channeled Don Adams, “good thinking, 99” but will undoubtedly end up saying, “sorry about that, Chief!”