No Price Is Too High In A World Of Bitcoins And Teslas

Includes: COIN, TSLA
by: Vahan Janjigian, CFA

As the father of three girls, I've watched more than my fair share of teen girl movies. One line I find amusing is from Princess Diaries starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews. In one scene, a voice announces over the public address system at school, "Virtual homework may not be submitted for actual credit."

That line came to my mind when I read about the collapse of Mt. Gox, the world's largest bitcoin trading exchange. We don't know yet exactly what transpired at Mt. Gox. There are rumors that it was hacked and 750,000 bitcoins were stolen, which just a few days ago would have been worth about $600 million.

We do know that as a result of Mt. Gox's failure, bitcoin holders everywhere are worried. Some may have been robbed, but even those who still have their bitcoins are finding it a little more difficult to convert the virtual currency into actual money. Yet there were setbacks to bitcoin even before the Mt. Gox failure. China had imposed strict regulations on its use, causing the price of a bitcoin to tumble from about $1,200 to $800. Then Russia banned the use of bitcoins. Even Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) removed a bitcoin app from its App Store. It makes one wonder what, if anything, bitcoins will be worth in the near future.

Sticking with valuation, but changing gears (pun intended), let's turn to the world of automobiles. Shares of Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) are going through the roof. The latest news to drive the stock was a report from Adam Jonas, a Morgan Stanley equity analyst. Jonas makes the case that Tesla's innovative technologies are disrupting not only the automotive industry; they are also disrupting the electric utility industry. In addition to making electric vehicles, Jonas argues that Tesla is morphing into an energy storage business. His thesis seems logical enough.

Jonas upped his price target on Tesla to $320. His previous price target was a comparatively cheap $153. Shares of Tesla were already selling for well above $200 before Jonas raised his target, so he must have had one hell of an epiphany. In reaction to Jonas's report and new price target, Tesla closed 14% higher for the day at $248 per share. At this rate, Jonas may have to raise his target again in just a few more days.

Tesla is indeed one of the most innovative companies around. As for CEO Elon Musk, he's clearly a genius. However, let's keep things in perspective. Tesla is expected to sell only 35,000 cars in 2014 (compare that to the 2.5 million vehicles that Ford (NYSE:F) sold in 2013). Yet Tesla's market capitalization tops $30 billion, which is about one-half of Ford's market cap. The stock is now selling for 13 times revenues and 65 times expected 2015 earnings. Yet we're supposed to believe this kind of valuation is perfectly logical because a Morgan Stanley analyst proclaimed that Tesla is not just a car maker anymore.

I suppose it is hard to argue that $30 billion for Tesla is too expensive when Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), and LinkedIn (LNKD) all sell for almost as much. Still, for $30 billion you could buy C.R. Bard (NYSE:BCR), Hormel Foods (NYSE:HRL), and McCormick & Co. (NYSE:MKC). For just one Tesla, you could get three S&P 500 companies, each of which has increased its dividend payment every year for at least 25 years.

Some of the valuations I'm seeing in today's market make me uncomfortable. They even bring back memories of the late 1990s when tech stocks with little in revenues and nothing in earnings were going through the roof while "old economy" stocks remained flat. Things aren't quite that bad today, but we're moving in that direction. But hey, what do I know. Maybe Tesla really is a bargain at $30 billion. After all, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) just said it would pay $19 billion in cash and stock to buy WhatsApp. Watch out though if Mark Zuckerberg changes his mind about the financing and decides to pay with bitcoins instead.

Disclosure: No positions

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