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Feb 24, 2021

Tesla reversal delivers US$10B hit to China's EV tycoons

Gordon Reid discusses General Motors, Tesla and electric vehicles

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The Chinese electric-vehicle upstarts who rode Elon Musk’s coat-tails to riches have lost around US$10 billion in recent weeks as Tesla Inc.’s staggering rally shifted into reverse.

The U.S.-listed shares of Xpeng Inc. have plunged 33 per cent from their recent highs, while Li Auto Inc. is down 27 per cent from its early-January peak. Nio Inc., the Shanghai-based EV maker most often likened to Tesla, has slumped 22 per cent from peak to trough.

That’s seen the combined fortune of the three tycoons who founded the companies -- He Xiaopeng, Li Xiang and Bin Li -- drop by about US$10 billion from January highs, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

“EV stocks have priced in big growth over a long timeframe, leaving them particularly vulnerable to shifts in sentiment,” said Robert Cowell, a Shanghai-based equity research analyst of 86Research. “Also competition is probably a part of it. There can only be a few market leaders in the long term.”

The damage has also spread to the Hong Kong-traded shares of China Evergrande New Energy Vehicle Group Ltd., which have shed 23 per cent this week. BYD Co., the Chinese electric-vehicle manufacturer backed by Warren Buffett, has fallen 18 per cent from its recent high.

The slide comes as Tesla shares wiped out their year-to-date gains Tuesday and briefly traded below the level where they were when the carmaker entered the S&P 500 Index in December. The U.S.-listed trio had benefited heavily from Tesla’s surge and market buzz around electrification, particularly toward players exposed to China, the world’s biggest EV market and one of the most important for Musk.

Xpeng and Li Auto are still trading at more than double the price they went public at last year, while Nio surged more than 1,100 per cent in 2020, beating even Tesla’s stratospheric rally. Last year, Xpeng more than quadrupled from its IPO price and Li Auto more than tripled as speculative money poured into the sector, led by Tesla’s blistering 743 per cent rally. Shares rallied 3.8 per cent in pre-market trading Wednesday.

While the selloff was fueled in part by Musk’s comments that the price of Bitcoin seems “high,” there are other factors that may also be taking the shine off EV makers, including a continuous stream of development news from traditional automakers such as General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., as they prepare to go all in on the electrification race.

Hyundai Motor Co. earlier this week unveiled its Ioniq 5 electric car, saying it aims to sell 70,000 of the vehicles this year, rising to 100,000 next year.