TeslaIn the first quarter of 2016, Tesla Motors reported total revenues of $1.15 billion and an adjusted loss per share of 57 cents. Investors and capital markets rely on positive earnings, a measure of profitability, to value companies. Since 2010, the company has reported a loss every year. If positive earnings serve as a barometer for stock valuation, Tesla stock is unlikely to capture your imagination.

Yet, investors have driven up the price of Tesla as if they are driving the Aventador, the Italian stallion, on the Autobahn. The stock price of Tesla was around $20 in 2010 and today it is worth $207, which translates into a heart pounding growth rate of more than 900%. If you had bought 1,000 Tesla shares in 2010 for a modest investment of $20,000, the same investment would be worth almost a quarter of a million dollars.  

Irrational Exuberance

What is the basis for such irrational exuberance? Are investors assessing “value” of Tesla based on its revenues or expected future profits? The company’s total revenues grew from $117 million in 2010 to $4,030 million in 2015, which is an astounding growth of 3,400%. Estimating equity value based on revenues and disregarding economic profits is like chasing James Bond’s Aston Martin in a Cinderella Carriage. Could investors be arriving at intrinsic value using expected future profits. Sure, I could also win the New York lottery!

Most analysts have a sell recommendation on Tesla yet investors are treating the stock like Malva Pudding served with Witblits. So what is the rational explanation for the fascination with Tesla? Most likely, investors are really betting on the ingenuity and brilliance of Elon Musk.   

The Musk of Zorro

Elon Musk is a South African-born Canadian-American entrepreneur, engineer, innovator, and investor. He is the CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors. He is also the founder CEO of SpaceX, co-founder and chairman of SolarCity, co-chairman of OpenAI, co-founder of Zip2; and co-founder of PayPal. As of April 2016, he has an estimated net worth of US$14.2 billion, making him the 68th wealthiest person in the US.

Mr. Musk has stated that the goals of SolarCity, Tesla Motors, and SpaceX are based on his vision to change the world. His desired goals include reducing global warming through sustainable energy production and consumption, reducing the risk of human extinction, and setting up a human colony on Mars. He has envisioned a high-speed transportation system known as the Hyperloop, and has proposed a VTOL supersonic jet aircraft with electric fan propulsion, known as the Musk electric jet.

Tesla Models: Bevy of Beauties

The company caught the attention of the avant-garde driver when they produced Tesla Roadster, the first fully electric sports car. The company’s second vehicle was Model S, a fully electric luxury sedan, which was followed by the Model X, a crossover. Its next projected vehicle is the heavily hyped mass-market electric car Model 3.

The price of eco-friendly and curve enhancing beauties is not cheap. Models S and X are around $100,000. Only Model 3, a Musk gift for the masses, is priced around $35,000.  According to Tesla, reservations for Model 3 is approaching the 400,000 mark. The expected shipping date is not until the end of 2017. Many of the later orders fulfilled may not be available until 2019 or 2020. Model 3 should be renamed “Phantom of the Opera.”

Are you ready to test drive a Tesla or invest in the Tesla stock? You will certainly enjoy the “ride.”

Chatham, May 13, 2016; 12.30A

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