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Jan 31, 2019

Tesla's surprise CFO exit may add fuel to 'conspiracy theories'

Tesla reports Q4 earnings miss despite better-than-expected sales

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The bull vs bear debate is poised to heat up following Tesla Inc.’s (TSLA.O) fourth-quarter results Wednesday post-market, and analysts are placing their bets on the naysayers.

While the results were a mixed bag, the surprise exit of the longtime finance chief will possibly fire up the “conspiracy theories” around the company, Evercore ISI said.

Tesla shares fell 5.1 per cent to about US$293 per share as of 6:51 a.m. in New York.

Here’s what analysts said after the earnings report and call.

Morgan Stanley, Adam Jonas

“The 2019 outlook was a mixed bag with lower than expected unit volume, a target for improved margins, restructuring-led cost savings, and lower capex.”

“We believe fourth-quarter results and the 2019 outlook give something for bulls and bears to exercise their imaginations. We don’t expect consensus expectations to change significantly and don’t see how the core narratives around either the bull case or bear case are significantly altered.”

Rates equal-weight, price target US$291.

Evercore ISI, Arndt Ellinghorst

“Today, the bull/bear debate will be over the ‘19 outlook/cash generation while Twitter will be mad with conspiracy theories over the CFO retiring. We would expect this tug of war to be won by the bears this time and Tesla down on the open.”

Rates in line, price target US$330.

JPMorgan, Ryan Brinkman

“The real surprise in fourth quarter” was the free cash flow, which tracked a much stronger US$910 million vs JPMorgan’s US$349 million and consensus US$412 million.

“We expect investors to react negatively to the replacement of Deepak Ahuja as CFO with Zach Kirkhorn, Tesla’s current VP of Finance, given Mr. Ahuja’s long automotive industry experience and 11-year tenure as the firm’s CFO, during which he provided relative stability to the firm’s finance staff that has otherwise seen a great deal of churn.”

Rates underweight, price target US$230 from US$220.

 

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