Justin’s note: Today, we’re sharing the latest from investing legend Whitney Tilson, the man CNBC calls “The Prophet.” And it’s not hard to see why…
In 2000, Whitney predicted the dot-com crash. In early 2008, he predicted the housing crisis and the government bailout. In December 2008 on 60 Minutes, he called the bottom of the stock market – just prior to the start of the longest bull market in history. More recently, in December 2017, he called the top in bitcoin almost to the hour.
And now, Whitney is making another bold market call. As longtime readers will see, his latest call is something we’ve been saying for the past year… one of the most popular companies today is doomed. And according to Whitney, this company’s shares will crash by the end of the year.
By Whitney Tilson
March 1 was the beginning of the end for electric car maker Tesla (TSLA)…
Ever since I got burned shorting the stock in 2013 – watching it march higher from $35 to $205 a share – I’ve warned my readers about betting against CEO Elon Musk and his team. They’ve simply pulled too many rabbits out of their hats over the years.
Though Musk often behaves like a narcissistic brat, he’s also an incredible entrepreneur with a remarkable track record. He has almost single-handedly pushed every major car manufacturer in the world to invest heavily in electric vehicles, and we’ll all be better off for it. (The same can be said for SpaceX and the aerospace industry.)
But Tesla has almost done too good of a job. Now, it faces a massive wave of competition. Electric cars from high-end European manufacturers Audi and Jaguar are already vastly outselling Tesla’s Model S and Model X cars in Europe. Meanwhile… Toyota, Kia, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Nissan, and Renault are developing their own lower-priced electric vehicles.
As a result of this new competition, I told my readers last month that Musk has no more rabbits to pull out of his hat.
I believe Tesla’s stock – which currently trades at around $270 a share – will be trading below $100 by the end of 2019.
• I don’t get in the habit of making these types of calls often…
I’ve made some big calls – but I only do so when three things line up perfectly, as I believe they do now for Tesla: the fundamentals, my “boots on the ground” research, and investor sentiment.
The company’s fundamentals are terrible. Demand is weak, inventories are piling up, and investors are finally starting to lose confidence in Musk.
• On April 3, Tesla reported a huge miss…
It delivered 63,000 vehicles in the first quarter – far lower than Wall Street’s estimates of 76,000. That number represented a stunning 31% drop from the previous quarter. The stock got clobbered on the news, falling more than 8% on April 4.
But the miss wasn’t a surprise to me, thanks to the behind-the-scenes research I’ve been doing.
For years, I’ve warned my short-selling friends about shorting Tesla. It’s extremely dangerous to short open-ended growth stories based on fundamentals alone. The company has indeed grown its revenues nearly 200 times over the past decade, and its cult-like followers step in to buy on every dip. Trying to short a stock like that is a good way to get your face ripped off.
That said, it can also be extremely profitable to short these story stocks when the growth is busted, but it’s not priced into the stock yet. (That’s exactly what happened with 3D Systems in 2015.)
• Tesla has more red flags than just about any company I’ve studied in my two decades on Wall Street…
With a market cap of $46 billion – nearly that of General Motors (GM) – the stock is still priced for perfection. This makes no sense given that sales plunged last quarter and the company is closing stores, slashing prices, laying off huge numbers of employees, and for good measure, declaring war on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission!
(Plus, I’m 99% certain that Tesla is using extremely aggressive accounting, and I believe there’s at least a 50% likelihood that the company is committing outright fraud.)
Consider this story my former business partner, Glenn Tongue, told me. He is one of the biggest tech geeks I know. He bought (and loved) a Model S, and recently purchased a Model 3. He shared the following mind-boggling anecdote with me…
Last September, I sold my Model S to purchase a souped-up Model 3 – the performance version with breathtaking acceleration. I was excited when I first received my new car. But after a short while, I began to miss the features and roominess of the Model S. And then Tesla cut its prices on the Model 3, which made me feel like a chump for having paid a higher price. So I called Tesla and said I wanted to sell my new car back to them. To my surprise, the company let me.
As it turns out, I still have the app on my phone that allows me to track my old car’s location, so I was curious to see what Tesla did with it. The answer: Not much. The company immediately moved it to a used-car facility where it has been sitting in an open lot ever since, all winter. The battery has long since drained to zero. It just sits there, losing value every month.
Something isn’t right here. Why isn’t Tesla selling it? Is it even trying? Why isn’t the company periodically charging it to keep it in good enough shape to sell at some point? How is it accounting for this car? Has it taken a write-down? How many more cars are there like mine?
Another big warning flag is the huge number of departures by senior executives. I’ve never seen anything like it. This graphic that Yahoo Finance put together captures it beautifully…
Notice how heavily skewed the departures are in the legal and accounting areas of the company. That’s exactly what you would expect to see if fraud is occurring.
• Tesla is in deep trouble…
As the first mover, the company had nearly the entire electric vehicle market to itself, which led to incredible growth in recent years. That has led Musk and his loyal followers to dramatically overestimate the true demand.
That’s easy to do with new, innovative products – which early adopters eagerly buy. But very few such products go mainstream. For every blockbuster hit product like Apple’s iPhone, dozens of others fizzle out.
No doubt, Tesla’s cars are extremely appealing for wealthy, environmentally conscious tech lovers who are willing to spend a lot of money to drive a cool new toy. But that’s a niche market.
Tesla recognizes this, which is why it developed its much-hyped, lower-priced Model 3. But as Glenn discovered, it’s not nearly as good of a car. So it’s not surprising that once Tesla fulfilled the big backlog of demand from early adopters, sales appear to be falling off a cliff.
I don’t think the big sales shortfall in the first quarter is a one-time hiccup. Instead, it’s likely a harbinger of things to come. Sales are going to be under even more pressure as competition ramps up.
And even if Tesla’s big price cuts stimulate sales, what will that do to the company’s margins? It’s not clear, for example, that Tesla makes any money at all selling the lowest-priced ($35,000) version of the Model 3.
• As for Tesla’s investors, even the biggest bulls are growing skeptical…
Galileo Russell, the young millennial host of a finance-focused YouTube channel, gained the Tesla spotlight last summer when Musk cut off “bonehead” Wall Street analysts on an earnings call and instead had a conversation with the 25-year-old.
It’s a credit to Russell that he’s beginning to question all the insane, inexplicable things that the company and its CEO are doing. Most people I’ve found do the opposite once they’ve committed to something, especially if they’ve done so publicly: They dig in their heels, block out disconfirming information, and attack anyone who questions them.
In contrast, Russell hosted a 28-minute YouTube video last month with his tens of thousands of followers in which he outlined his concerns and practically begged Tesla to raise money. Why it hasn’t done so remains a great mystery, but its failure to do so could be its undoing.
• Still, you have to give Musk and his team credit where it’s due…
They’ve successfully navigated through one crisis after another for years now, thanks mainly to huge demand for their cars. But now that this appears to be ending, I think their luck has run out.
In fact, I’m so sure that this is the beginning of the end that last month, I offered a friendly wager. I put $10,000 of my own money on the line and challenged Tesla bulls that if the company reports even one profitable quarter this year, I’d donate to the charity of the winner’s choice.
A dozen of my readers – including my friend and famed short-seller Andrew Left, who’s super-bullish on the stock – took me up on the bet! After this recent news, I’m more confident than ever before that they are going to need their checkbooks by the end of the year.
Mark my words: Tesla shares are going to crash by the end of the year.
• One last note before I sign off…
If you haven’t heard… I’m appearing on camera tonight at 8 p.m. ET to discuss my biggest investment prediction in 20 years.
I’ll be giving away the name and ticker of my No. 1 retirement stock in America just for tuning in. I hope you’ll join us. You can save your seat right here.
Justin’s note: Mark your calendars… Tonight, Whitney will go on camera to share his biggest investment prediction in 20 years. And he’ll even reveal the name and ticker symbol of what he calls the “No. 1 retirement stock in America” to everyone who tunes in.
Plus, just for signing up to attend this free event, you’ll receive access to a three-part video series on one of Whitney’s favorite companies… behind-the-scenes Q&A videos… and two more of his strongest-conviction ideas. Save your spot right here.
What are your thoughts on Tesla? Is the company finally going to fall? What’s behind its cult-like following? Let us know at [email protected].