Tesla China Plant Might Have Come to the Rescue Last Quarter

Elon Musk removes his jacket during the Tesla China-made Model 3 delivery ceremony in Shanghai in January.
Elon Musk removes his jacket during the Tesla China-made Model 3 delivery ceremony in Shanghai in January. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg News)

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Tesla Inc. endured a roughly seven-week shutdown of its most important car plant in the world last quarter, but its brand-new backup factory may have saved the day.

The manufacturer may have delivered more than 83,000 vehicles last quarter, according to analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Some think it’s possible that Tesla surpasses the roughly 87,000 cars handed over to customers a year ago, or the more than 88,000 delivered in the first three months of this year.

Expectations were much lower just a few months ago, when Tesla and its automotive peers shut factories and showrooms and watched their stock prices crater. But while other car manufacturers’ shares have come back slowly, Tesla’s have soared, closing June 30 at a record high of $1,079.81. The company’s market capitalization has shot up to $200.3 billion, passing ExxonMobil Corp. and closing in on auto industry leader Toyota Motor Corp.

Tesla shares were down about 1% as of 8 a.m. July 1 in New York, before the start of regular trading.

A look at analysts' estimates for quarterly vehicle deliveries.

Shanghai and Y

What’s helping Tesla’s cause is its new plant near Shanghai, which just started delivering vehicles to public customers in January. The carmaker also began production of the Model Y crossover in March and rushed to reopen its Fremont, Calif., factory in May so that it could resume filling orders for what CEO Elon Musk has predicted will become his top seller.

“The lesson learned by now is that TSLA shares tend to ‘work’ when something new has launched,” Jeffrey Osborne, a Cowen Inc. analyst with the equivalent of a sell rating on the stock, said in a report June 30. “At this point both the Model Y and China-built cars are ramping up.”

Musk, 49, suggested to Tesla employees early this week that the company could manage to avoid a quarterly loss.

“Breaking even is looking super tight,” the CEO wrote to staff in an email seen by Bloomberg. “Really makes a difference for every car you build and deliver. Please go all out to ensure victory!”

Tesla's factory in Shanghai.

Tesla's factory in Shanghai. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg News)

Hibernating Bears

Musk has sent many end-of-quarter internal memos both to rally employees and signal to investors, but his optimism has sometimes been misplaced. The then-record 97,000 deliveries Tesla reported for the three months that ended in September fell short of the 100,000 mark he floated in an email to workers.

This quarter, though, even skeptics in the analyst community see reason to be upbeat.

“With strong production in China and better-than-expected production in Fremont, we think that Tesla will beat what appears to be a low bar for deliveries,” Brian Johnson, a Barclays Plc analyst with a sell-equivalent rating on the stock, wrote in a report.


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He estimates 85,000 vehicle deliveries, potentially setting Tesla up for a quarterly profit that would make the stock eligible for inclusion in the S&P 500 Index. Johnson still believes the carmaker’s shares are “fundamentally overvalued,” but believes they could keep moving higher in the coming weeks.

“We urge our bearish friends (perhaps emboldened by a ~$1,000 stock price) to return to the shelter of their caves,” Johnson wrote.

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