After reporting a net loss of $38 million in its Q3 filings earlier today, Tesla suffered a loss of over 12% in afterhours trading. The stock, which has grown nearly 80% since the beginning of the year shot down almost $22 since the markets closed on November 5th.
In my last look at Tesla in Q1 of 2013, the company had posted its first net income, a tidy $11 million. However, analysis revealed that the company’s profitability, which garnered praise from across the industry, could not be attributed to the OEM’s main objective, the production and subsequent sales of its automobiles. Rather, Tesla’s profit was derived from “Other Income,” which is accounting jargon for money that is made outside of the scope of the company’s normal operations.
Two fiscal quarters later, and the profitability structure of Tesla is steadily improving, with Tesla exhibiting signs of strong operational profitability. This is attributable to Tesla’s increase in gross margin to 24%, from 17% at the beginning of the year. The company reported a gross profit of about $103 million for the quarter. What this means is that by simply taking all of Tesla’s sales, less the costs of goods sold, the company is in the black. Contrast that from a year ago, when Tesla’s gross loss was almost $9 million.
This is quite an encouraging figure, especially considering the steady decline of ZEV credit revenues. Back in Q1, ZEV credits were responsible for 12% of Tesla’s revenue, while it now equates to about 2% of total sales. Additionally, Tesla’s Statement of Cash Flows reports positive cash flows from operations of $102 million.
One thing that has not changed for the company is its struggle to manage its operating expenses. With a total of $133 million for the quarter, Tesla’s fixed costs effectively wipe out any profitability achieved on the top line. For the past two quarters, Tesla’s operating expenses equaled about 30% of sales. While gross margin has improved, there is simply not enough unit contribution to cover the remaining costs when costs of sales are 86% of revenue. The recipe to profitability is simple. Tesla must either bring down its fixed costs, or continue to improve its margins. A combination of both is the best case scenario.
In its letter to shareholders, Tesla remarks that R&D costs are up due to work on a right hand drive configuration for the Model S, and development work on the Model X. Selling General and Admin (SG&A) also increased, as the company is pushing its global expansion and growing its Supercharger network. Both of these expenses are key to Tesla’s future success. Continued development and innovation of new and existing technologies is essential for the electric automaker to diversify its product offerings while also continuing to make them more practical and accessible to the larger population. As a result, a reduction in operating expenses seems unlikely in the near future.
One of the primary responsibilities of any publicly traded company is to deliver value to its shareholders. With an earnings per share figure of $-2.09, Tesla has not done a great job of doing so to date. While it is still too early to tell whether the hype is real for Tesla, it is clear that after today’s results, some of the luster has been lost. I am no investment advisor, but I am a fan of history, and historically, Tesla’s poor profitability has remained a constant.
All figures taken from Tesla’s SEC Filing
Graeme Kreindler is an HBA Candidate at the Richard Ivey School of Business at The University of Western Ontario.