Tesla is about to report 2nd-quarter earnings — here are 3 things to look for (TSLA)

elon musk

  • Analysts expect Tesla to post a loss for Q2.
  • They also expect Tesla’s revenue to rebound on improved Q2 vehicle deliveries.
  • Wall Street should be looking for insight on demand and some guidance on a Tesla pickup truck.
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Tesla reports second-quarter earnings on Wednesday, after the markets close.

Analysts expect a narrowing loss from the prior quarter, something in the $0.40-per-share ballpark. Tesla delivered about 95,000 vehicles in Q1, so analysts also expect topline revenue to recover from Q1’s dropoff — back to around $6.5 billion.

Tesla shares are down over 22% year-to-date, but the company has been signaling a second-quarter loss for months, so there shouldn’t be any surprises on that front, even if Tesla decided to sell emission credits to mitigate a negative bottom-line result. 

Shares are up 15% for the past month, so it’s pretty clear that the markets have priced in the loss and are hoping for a big finish to the year, with a swing back to profits in either the third or fourth quarters.

Here are the three big things that Wall Street should be looking at when Tesla releases the numbers on Wednesday and CEO Elon Musk takes analysts’ questions on a conference call.

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Revenue, revenue, revenue.

Analysts expect a revenue rebound for Tesla, back to about $6.5 billion for Q2, well up from the roughly $4.5 billion the company posted in Q1, but still down from the epic $7.2 billion with which the car maker closed out the final of quarter of 2018.

From my perspective, revenue is far more important than profits at this point in Tesla’s history. The topline results were steadily improving quarter-by-quarter through 2018, but Q1 2019 signaled a big pullback from the trend.

A return to form would indicate that Tesla is moving the metal. Once that’s re-established, the company can figure out how to covert a rising topline into a sustainably positive bottom line.

Demand, demand, demand.

Tesla’s most extreme naysayers were prophesying bankruptcy for a year or so, but now the negative narrative has largely shifted to questions about demand, especially after Tesla went back to the capital markets to raise money — successfully — this year. (The bankruptcy argument hinged on Tesla being cut off from funding.)

The idea is that Tesla’s cash-cow Model S and Model X vehicles are witnessing flagging demand while the cheaper Model 3 isn’t living up to expectations. Basically, that Tesla has sold a car to everybody who wants a snazzy electric vehicle in the US and now must develop demand in new markets, mainly China.

At a more extreme formulation, Tesla bears foresee a “demand cliff” that Tesla could fall off as all of its vehicles confront weaker demand in the future. Lately, price cuts to various models have bolstered this bear case. But Tesla’s counterargument is that pricing in the car business is exceptionally fluid.

Analysts should be seeking guidance from Tesla on how it intends to manage demand issues for the second half of 2019. The final six months of a year, and really the final three, are where Tesla has historically made bank. 

On the plus side, Tesla can point to its sales upticks, year-over-year, which are the most impressive in the auto industry, at a time when overall sales have hit a plateau.

Pickups, pickups, pickups.

Time is of the essence if Tesla expects to be competitive in the pickup-truck market. Upstart Rivian has attracted new funding from Ford and Rivian and has been the darling of the 2018-19 US auto-show circuit. Meanwhile, Ford is already at the testing stage with its F-150 all-electric prototype; the pickup, based on the best-selling vehicle in the US for 42 years, should arrive by 2021 or 2022, but it will be preceded by a hybrid-electric truck.

Tesla has no manufacturing capacity to build a pickup in the US, the key market for such vehicles. What spare capacity it does have should soon be eaten up by its Model Y crossover. 

Beyond all that, we haven’t yet seen even a prototype Tesla pickup, although some sort of reveal is expected later this year. 

There’s no reason why Tesla shouldn’t be able to develop and launch a groundbreaking pickup design, but the longer it waits, the farther it is likely to fall behind the pickup experts, particularly Ford.

If I were a sell-side analyst, this would be my first question for Musk on Wednesday’s conference call.