Demand for electric cars has grown slowly. But the tsunami is coming
New York (CNN Business)Telsa shares outperformed all other major stocks by a wide margin last year, rising 743%. So does that mean its incredible run is behind it?
The first week of 2021 once again saw Tesla among the S&P 500’s best performers, rising 24.7%, just 1 percentage point behind market leader L Brands (LB). The week’s gain, on top of Tesla’s performance last year, was enough to make CEO Elon Musk the richest person on the planet, and its shares surpassed Facebook (FB) to become the fifth most valuable US stock.
If it keeps up the first week’s pace of increase, Tesla stock would match all of last year’s gain by mid-March. Not that anyone is predicting another 700% increase in the shares this year. Or even a tenth of that.
In fact, even some of the most bullish analysts are only forecasting that Tesla shares would hit $1,000 by the end of the year, about a 14% rise for the rest of 2021 from Friday’s record high close.
Several analysts with relatively positive outlooks for the company have 12-month price targets well below Friday’s $880 close. The current mean target price for analysts is $440, which would be a 50% drop in shares.
Of the 35 analysts following the stock, 13 have a “strong buy” or “buy” recommendation, and another 11 have a neutral or hold recommendation. Of the rest, seven have a sell recommendation, and only four a “strong sell.”
Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas is one of the bullish analysts with a bearish price target. Considered one of the top auto analyts on Wall Street, Jonas upgraded his recommendation on Tesla to “overweight” in late November, but has scrambled to keep raising his price target ahead of the market price.
On November 18, when he upgraded the stock, he set a $540 target price, which was a 22% rise from where shares stood at that point. This past Wednesday he pushed it up to $810, only to see Tesla shares rapidly blow past that mark, too.
What makes it so difficult to predict Tesla shares is that investors aren’t pricing it based on how the company is doing now. If they were, a company with only 500,000 car sales last year would hardly be worth more than the combined value of the world’s 10 most valuable automakers, which together account for the large majority of the world’s nearly 75 million annual car sales.
Rather, they are betting on Tesla’s ability to keep growing rapidly, and to capture a large share of the world’s growing appetite for electric vehicles, or EVs. There are forecasts predicting that within 10 to 20 years, Tesla could become the world’s No. 1 automaker, not just of electric cars, but of any kind of car.
Dan Ives, tech analyst with Wedbush Securities, has a base case target price of $715 for Tesla shares, and a bull case target of $1,000. His buy recommendation on Tesla is predicated on his belief that Tesla will continue its strong run.
“I think they could hit 1 million vehicles [delivered annually] by 2022. And looking at north of 3 to 4 million as we go into 2025-26, with 40% of that growth coming from China,” he said. “We believe if you look out over the next 10-15 years, you could start looking at 10-12 million vehicles a year,” he said. Volkswagen, the current world leader, sold 11 million cars in 2019.
That’s all conjecture, of course. But what’s indisputable is that Tesla stock has proven analysts wrong consistently over the run that began 15 months ago.
On October 23, 2019, just before Tesla reported the strong sales and profits that started to erase Wall Street’s doubts about the stock, shares closed at $50.94 when adjusted for the subsequent stock split. They jumped 18% the next day, and were off to the races, rising a total of 1,628% since then.
It was a rise that analysts never saw coming. Their median target price in October 2019 was only about $50 at that time, adjusted for the split. The 12-month target price a year ago stood at $62.
From here, Ives points to some of the most successful tech stocks in the world and says Tesla now stands at the same point those companies did at turning points in their histories.
“If you’re a core EV (electric vehicle) believer, we’re still in the early days of the market playing out,” he said. “I’d only compare it to what I’ve seen from Apple (AAPL) launching the iPhone and Netflix (NFLX) coming out with a streaming service and Amazon (AMZN) coming out with Prime.”
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