Warren Buffett famously stated, "The investor of today does not profit from yesterday's growth." Indeed, the stock market loves growth stories, especially involving future, sustainable growth. While a thorough understanding of fundamentals, debt, competitive advantage, and future earnings are undoubtedly crucial to analyzing a stock, we like to look at the bigger picture and discuss topics in a collegial and easy to understand way. Today, I will try to put growth in a special context, and what it means to be a "growth story" and how it applies to Tesla Motors (TSLA).
When Apple (AAPL) demonstrated strong growth by launching new, groundbreaking products like the iPhone and iPad, or broke into new markets it had previously been absent from, stockholders were rewarded handsomely as revenues and profit grew as well.
Yelp's (YELP) run up this year has also been about growth. Growing user review base, a growing number of reviews, and trailblazing into new markets like Poland, and Denmark, helped boost the stock, regardless of the fact that it has yet to turn a profit.
Tesla , arguably a tech company in its own right, presents a similar story in regards to growth. It is also a story that has put roots into the traditional American auto industry over only the last few years, and its growth drivers can surely help keep the stock chugging along into the future.
TSLA currently owns the only auto manufacturing plant in CA, one that CEO Elon Musk has stated has a capacity of 500k cars a year. Currently, however, TSLA aims to produce 21,000 cars this year. When the company discusses its earnings this week, investors will have a fuller picture of that rate of production, and how it has changed. Operating at such a low capacity in relation to what the plant is capable of offers a strong trajectory of growth in the production (and of course, the sales) of its car portfolio. The market will examine the production rate of Tesla models, and if it rises, and continues to rise, the company will demonstrate the kind of growth that should serve the stock price well. The level of production, of course, is dependent on a multitude of factors, most notably demand; thus, rising demand will conceivably be coupled with strong growth in the rate of production of its automobiles. Also, ramping up production holds a host of its own problems, as product defects and recalls could become more widespread.
Demand will also be affected by another element of Tesla's growth story: emerging markets. Currently, Tesla only sells cars in a handful of countries, yet its management believes its international expansion will provide a "terrific foundation" for its cars. As a comparison, Ford sells and produces cars in dozens of countries worldwide. Of course any comparison with the large, established automakers must be taken with a grain of salt since they wield several differences in economies of scale, strong international presence, and brand recognition.
Nonetheless, Tesla is a car company, so inevitably it will be compared with its competitors in this sector. If Tesla can continue grow its international presence as management expects, the market will greet these growing numbers with optimism. A point of comparison I like to use is Apple's presence in international markets like China or Brazil. When its numbers were growing, positive sentiment followed the stock; when growth stalled internationally, people took notice. New markets, although often unpredictable, offer rich opportunities for growth. With Tesla, an interesting point to keep in mind will be its forthcoming Supercharger network in the U.S., and its ability to duplicate a charging-station infrastructure in other countries. Listen intently to the earnings call to get an understanding of the trajectory of growth in international markets for Tesla, and how international demand can bolster its overall growth.
Finally, a third aspect of Tesla's growth potential lies in new products. Tesla is slated to release a SUV model in the near future and Musk has intimated that pick-up trucks are also on the drawing board. If one looks at these new products like the market looks at new products from tech companies like Google (Chromecast) and Apple, it is easy to see that a frenzy can ensue upon their announcement, launch, and early growth numbers. An SUV, for instance, could be a new product for Tesla that could demonstrate month-over-month and year-over-year growth in levels of production, even if from a low starting point.
Whether the stock price has all the aforementioned growth drivers priced in already, or if they have yet to be fully realized, is really anyone's guess (a look at a company's forward PE ratio helps with a strong analysis about growth). But investors can see where growth will come from with Tesla, and hope it can provide a good value for the company Tesla wants to be in the future.