Stock Market

Why “All Bets Are Off” on Tesla Stock

The shares of Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) have held steady in recent weeks. But the wild ride may not be over for those who are bullish on Tesla stock because the “story” that’s helped send this stock to new heights continues to be intact.

TSLA stock

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Sure, the company’s latest quarterly profit numbers  fell short of analysts’ average estimate.

Yet the guidance that the electric-vehicle powerhouse provided was music to investors’ ears. The company expects its average annual EV deliveries to jump 50% in each of the next few years. That, along with the potential of its self-driving technology, may be enough to send its shares well above $1000.

On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that Tesla can continue to prove its critics wrong. So far, after setting achievable vehicle delivery goals, the company has been able to meet expectations. And that’s been enough for retail investors, who are not too concerned about the valuation of Tesla stock, to keep on bidding it higher.

But if the company’s growth starts to stumble, the stock’s performance could radically change. I don’t think it will suffer epic declines, as Tesla’s biggest critics continue to forecast. However, those buying the shares these days may be hit with heavy losses, if and when the “EV bubble” finally pops.

So does that mean investors should sell their shares now, before the bubble bursts? I wouldn’t advise them to do so. The bottom line is that it’s hard to tell whether the bulls or bears will prevail going forward.

Why Tesla Stock Could Keep on Winning

If the company meets its growth projections, the stock could stay around its current levels. But investors who are buying the shares today aren’t looking for them to simply “hold steady.” After missing out on Tesla’s 460% gain over the past 12 months, most of those buying the shares now are doing so because they think the stock will at least double again.

By-and-large, sell-side analysts are cautious about the stock. Yet one of them, Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas, recently suggested that the shares could rally significantly.

I don’t think Jonas is looking to grab headlines with  four-digit price targets, as analysts like ARK Invest’s Cathie Wood have. But if the automaker’s growth doesn’t slow down much between now and 2030, a move from $850 per share to $3000 per share within that time frame may not be out of reach.

Yet while Tesla still has plenty of early-mover advantages, other automakers are quickly catching up. Going forward, that could make it tougher for Tesla to continue growing rapidly. And, without the company delivering outsized growth, it’ll be hard for the stock to remain one of the most expensive automotive name out there, let alone move higher.

The Bears May Finally Be Proven Right

So far, the critics of Tesla stock have been no match for its large group (or, dare I say, cult?) of devoted investors. The stock’s most dogmatic fans have laughed all the way to the bank. But has the stock soared due to improvements in the company’s fundamentals? Or has the tremendous rally been sparked by retail investors who were late to the party diving into the shares due to fear of missing out?

I think it’s the latter. Of course, the shares could still move higher. as long as the company continues to beat (or even just meet) expectations.

Yet what happens if Tesla starts to stumble? In Europe, it’s already losing ground to incumbent automakers like Volkswagen (OTCMKTS:VWAGY). And as InvestorPlace columnist Faizan Farooque pointed out in his Jan. 28 column, EV competition is heating up in Tesla’s two biggest markets, North America and China. In the U.S., legacy American auto companies like General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Ford (NYSE:F) are moving into EVs in a big way.

And in China, the aggressive pricing of Tesla’s  Model Y may keep home-grown competitors, like Nio (NYSE:NIO) and Xpeng (NYSE:XPEV), at bay. But the surging deliveries of  the largest Chinese EV makers may signal that Tesla could have trouble growing its sales in the world’s largest automotive market.

Putting it simply, Tesla’s growth could easily decelerate faster than expected, making it very difficult for the shares to hold onto their current levels.

Tesla’s Outlook Is Too Close to Call

I lean towards the bearish side when it comes to Tesla. But I concede that the performance of this company, which time and time again has proved its critics wrong, could continue to beat expectations. That could enable the richly valued shares to keep climbing higher.

Yet, since the bears’ thesis remains solid as well, it’s hard to tell where Tesla stock will head next. With that in mind, those who haven’t bought the shares yet may be better off staying on the sidelines.

On the date of publication, Thomas Niel did not (either directly or indirectly) hold any positions in the securities mentioned in this article.

Thomas Niel, a contributor to InvestorPlace, has written single stock analysis since 2016.

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