When I say that I don’t think Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) is a car company, I mean that Tesla isn’t run like even a reasonable facsimile of a car company.
Oh sure, Tesla makes cars. But, they don’t do so in any way that remotely looks like a real world high-end car manufacturer. Making cars in tents, having zero process control, no locked part design leads to supply chain nightmares all translate into quality issues that even Consumer Reports had to finally call them on, lest their reputation be forever tarnished.
These are just some of the issues that have dogged Tesla for the past two years while it tries to ramp up to compete with established players like Ford (NYSE:F), Toyota (NYSE:TM) and BMW (AMEX:BMWYY).
I’ve been on record as a massive Tesla bear for well over a year now, first publishing an article in the December 2017 Issue of the Gold Goats ‘n Guns Newsletter, “Elon Musk: Entrepreneurial Replicant.”
In that article I warned that the company was problematic based purely on Musk’s mercurial (and I’m being kind here) leadership. Tesla wasn’t a company built to serve a need other than to virtue signal about global warming.
And while there are plenty of reasons why electric cars can make sense, less carbon dioxide isn’t one of them. But, that’s where the billions of grants and Wall Street funny money came from.
Tesla is witches’ brew consisting of equal parts the Fed’s insane zero-bound interest rates, the elevation of global warming to religious significance by the left and cynical Wall Street profiteering.
The Fed provided the money, the government gave out the subsidies to entice the Wall Streeters and global warming provided the upscaling demand as Generation Prius gave way to the siren’s call of Musk’s consumerism.
The Model 3 was the make-or-break moment for the company. And the signs were all there that Musk hadn’t built a company capable of ramping up production to meet the artificial demand for the cars.
So when last week’s secret meeting revealed that the company was overhauling its sales model again, getting rid of its two-month old Apple Store model and going to direct online sales, the confirmation that Tesla’s chickens were finally coming home to roost was here.
Tesla is done.
More layoffs, more cuts and more shenanigans that would put any other company on the road to bankruptcy.
How is it that Tesla can have a secret meeting for media and certain investors to discuss strategy after market hours and this not be a breach of nearly every SEC insider trading rule there is?
Musk is already in hot water with the SEC and then he opens Tesla up for the mother of all insider trading lawsuits?
By the way is $TSLA hosting a secret conference call where they’re doling out material guidance and ducking questions on margin? And if so, sans an 8-K, how does that not pornographically violate securities laws? @SEC_Enforcement
— Quoth the Raven (@QTRResearch) February 28, 2019
When the stock opens the next day down 5 percent because the people at that meeting sold based on that information, there is real material harm being done here.
Now, the staunch libertarian in me says, “good.”
These investors finally gave the market the proper signal about Tesla’s present and future. But there is no reason why this meeting wasn’t open to the general public and that the link given out by Tesla was not to be disseminated.
Maybe since Tesla’s legal counsel quit earlier in the day there was no one there to tell Musk this meeting wasn’t a good idea.
I mean, that could be true, right?
Then again, I could be the King of Old Siam, to quote Jethro Tull.
And I haven’t even gotten to what the company is now guiding. Because it is clear now Tesla has something no starry-eyed bull wanted to admit before Thursday evening.
Tesla has a demand problem, as Gordon Johnson of the Vertical Group outlined in a note after Musk’s dog and pony show.
Tesla cut prices significantly while Musk refused to answer any questions about what the margin on the $35,000 version was, which only comes in black, by the way. And the reality is that the Model 3 is now nearly 25 percent more expensive upfront than it was when he took all those pre-orders, booked the revenue and now doesn’t want to talk about them.
In response to a good question from @Lebeaucarnews about the reservation list and how Elon calculated his estimate of 500k annual Model 3 unit demand, Elon says:
— Paul Huettner, CFA (@Paul_M_Huettner) March 1, 2019
But the real truth is that Tesla has been a dumpster fire for far longer than just this past week. When you have to bring a founder back as CFO and then have them follow the Chief Accounting Officer, Dave Morton, who lasted on the job less than a month, there is something seriously wrong with the company’s books.
Honestly, to me Tesla has looked like the Enron of car companies for a while now. Creative accounting to paper over-funding requirements and cap table realities that Musk could have avoided had he simply stepped down as CEO and let a grown-up fix the company’s operations.
They don’t have a PR problem. They have a COGS problem — Cost of Goods Sold.
And this all stems from the fact that Musk is an entrepreneur — a dreamer. He’s not a builder of businesses.
The secret to Steve Jobs’ success at Apple wasn’t his brilliance. It was Tim Cook’s brilliant ability to manage supply chains that made the company what it was when Jobs died. Cook can and has coasted Apple on its laurels for a long time because of the inherent efficiencies he built in spite of Jobs’ temperament.
Musk has never had anyone like that to balance him out. And it’s a shame. Tesla was a great idea whose time had obviously come. Model 3 pre-sales are a testament to that. But it was born from poisoned ground with corrupt money, perverse incentives and dubious societal benefits.
Now the grown-ups are entering the electric car space and Musk still doesn’t have a solution to his production problems.
Anyone long Tesla should not be at this point. But because of the irrational love this company generates, shorting it is just as dangerous. The long-term chart is non-committal with a bearish bias. But what is obvious with the stock back below $300 is that $250 is Tesla’s Maginot Line.
A break below that on a weekly and monthly closing basis puts Tesla on a path to tracing a bankruptcy chart.
If the SEC is serious about maintaining even a semblance of its reputation, then Musk and Tesla have to be dealt with or U.S. financial regulation will become even more of a joke than it already is.
With the Trump administration’s hostility to global warming one of the few things I’m happy about at this point, it seems clear that whoever or whatever was protecting Tesla under Obama is no longer able to hold containment.
• Money & Markets contributor Tom Luongo is the publisher of the Gold Goats ‘n Guns Newsletter. His work also is published at Strategic Culture Foundation, LewRockwell.com, Zerohedge and Russia Insider. A Libertarian adherent to Austrian economics, he applies those lessons to geopolitics, gold and central bank policy.