Growth stocks have been absolutely destroyed in the past couple of months, and in the process, some bargains have been created. Not all growth stocks are created equal, and there were undoubtedly some frothy rallies that took place into the early part of 2021, but opportunities abound if you – like me – think that the rapid economic expansion out of the COVID recession will serve these growth stocks well.
One name that I haven’t touched much in the past, but that I believe is on the cusp of a big move higher, is electric vehicle OG Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA). Below, I’ll discuss why I like Tesla’s fundamentals at the current price, but the timing of my bullish position is dictated by what we see below.
I’ve circled the areas that are ~4 weeks out from an upcoming earnings report to show how reliable Tesla has been in advancing – in a big way – into earnings reports. We are just under four weeks away from Tesla’s late-April report, and if history is a guide, the stock is likely to be a lot higher by the time the company reports than it is today. Given the immense weakness we’ve seen in the stock, I think the odds are even higher this time that the stock makes a run into the report than it usually is.
Not only has Tesla been a big winner trading into earnings releases, but there are signs that the selling is losing momentum. The relative bottom at $539 was met with new momentum lows in the RSI and PPO, but the current move down has seen momentum much higher on a relative basis. That doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does show that the worst of the selling is probably over. I’ve circled the divergences I’m referencing in the chart above, as these are the earliest signs of a bottom being formed.
Those that read my work know that I trust the accumulation/distribution line, which has never wavered despite the relentless selling we’ve seen. This indicator shows whether investors are buying dips or not and for the A/D line to look like that, on a stock with a massive market capitalization, institutions must be buying. Like the momentum indicators, nothing is certain with the A/D line, but all of this adds up to a stock that looks to me like it is trying to bottom.
But there’s one more piece of evidence I’d like to offer up that I believe shows Tesla is very oversold and is due for a rally. Below, I’ve plotted the total percentage returns over the prior 50-day period going back to the middle of 2018 to show just how ugly the recent selling has been.
Source: Author’s chart using historical price data from Yahoo! Finance
Tesla is currently showing 50-day returns of -25%, which has only occurred a handful of times in the past three years. We can see that there was one period of protracted weakness in early 2019 that eventually resolved itself to the upside but did take some time. That was before EV stocks got their massive bid from investors, and I think it is pretty easy to argue that time frame isn’t all that comparable to today.
What is comparable to today is the time period since 2020 began, and if we look at that, we see that Tesla is more oversold today by this measure than during any of the other drawdowns. I’ll say again none of this guarantees anything, but it certainly looks to me like Tesla is quite oversold on this measure, and keep in mind 50 trading days is roughly two and half months, so this is a longer-term indicator with lots of data points.
Now, when I put all of this together – the recent decline, the divergences in momentum, the fact that Tesla has been a huge winner into earnings releases, and 50-day rolling returns – all signs point to a much higher stock a month or two down the road.
Obviously, risks exist. The narrative for growth stocks being crushed has been higher interest rates, and if rates continue higher, it is possible we see more selling in growth names. However, the damage has been pretty severe in a lot of cases, and the interest rate narrative is a couple of months old at this point, so I’m not sure how much more downside there could be relative to what has already taken place.
Even if you do buy into the idea that higher rates are responsible for growth stocks coming down, it appears to me we have rally exhaustion going on in rates, opposite to what I just explained for Tesla.
We can see with this two-year chart that rates are still well below where they were pre-pandemic, with room for another 20 or 30bps before getting back to early-2020 levels. I mention this to say it isn’t like we’re making new highs in rates that should see growth stocks be decimated; this is just a rebound.
But more importantly, the vertical line I’ve annotated shows that the ten-year has climbed for about a month, making new relative highs repeatedly without any sort of momentum confirmation. The PPO is moving lower, and the 14-day RSI is doing the same thing. This doesn’t guarantee rates are coming down, but it does certainly show the rally is losing steam. Negative divergences like these often portend a change of trend, at least temporarily, and I firmly believe rates have moved too high, too quickly. If you believe rates are responsible for growth stock declines, this should look pretty bullish to you.
Not just a trade
I’ve detailed above why I think Tesla is set up very well right now technically, and I think the stock is on the cusp of a big move higher. However, Tesla isn’t just a trade candidate. I used to be a Tesla hater based on valuation this and valuation that, but the company has proven me wrong time and again. And it isn’t just me; have a look at this chart of revenue estimates, which move up, up, and up some more over time.
Source: Seeking Alpha
Revenue estimates have soared for the out years, but also for 2021 and 2022, in recent months. Tesla (read: Musk) has put out some highly ambitious goals over the year, some of which have come to fruition, and some of which haven’t. But this company is a massive disruptor in an industry with literally trillions of dollars on the line in the coming decade and has a huge head start on legacy players that are now trying to play catch up.
Source: Investor presentation
The company continues to invest billions of dollars in new production capacity for its products, including Gigafactories in Shanghai, Berlin, and Austin. The Roadster will be low volume and likely won’t make much difference for revenue or earnings, but things like the Cybertruck and Semi have enormous potential.
Tesla has taken big market share gains over the years with a very small lineup of vehicles, and as batteries become cheaper, as ranges get longer, and as more and more localities ban gasoline and diesel vehicles, Tesla is easily the biggest winner. Legacy manufacturers have scale advantages in terms of financing and footprints in place, but they are many years behind Tesla in terms of development.
The beautiful thing is that Tesla is taking market share, but the market itself is growing rapidly. The adoption of EVs among consumers is still in the very early stages, and for commercial fleets, it is even earlier. This sort of rapidly expanding market is good for all players, but for Tesla, it is taking share in a burgeoning market, creating a virtuous cycle of upward revenue potential. That’s why estimates continue to rise, and why I believe they will continue to do so.
Entire countries have made public their desire to ban fossil fuel vehicles in the not-too-distant future, which is why the legacy manufacturers are getting serious about EVs; there is no viable alternative at this point. Tesla has been developing for years and is the undisputed leader in the space, so it is in a much better competitive position for the eventual banning of fossil fuel vehicles around the world. Below we have EV market share, where Tesla is leading the way.
Tesla is in front of the only legacy OEM with any sort of meaningful share, which doesn't even account for the Detroit automakers, which are just getting started.
Tesla has years of knowledge in battery development - which is a key competitive advantage and differentiator - and it has already invested in manufacturing scale that not only affords higher capacity but a lead over the others that are trying to catch up. In short, Tesla knew the path forward was EVs years before the OEMs, which are now trying to replicate Tesla's success.
On the earnings front, Tesla used to be a leap of faith that at some point, the company would actually make some money. However, Tesla has now produced a full-year profit, and there appears to be no looking back.
Source: Seeking Alpha
Estimates have ramped higher since mid-2019, with steep upward slopes in estimates from 2021 through 2026 moving meaningfully higher. Tesla, in other words, has reached the inflection point with volume where it can cover all of its fixed costs, and reliably stop burning through cash by the hundreds of millions of dollars, which was an issue for years. That’s critically important because Tesla is no longer a leap of faith; it is a company with industry-leading operating margins and huge revenue growth potential.
Source: Seeking Alpha
If you look at the bottom line in the above table, operating income on a TTM basis was negative through March 2019 but has been positive - and rising - since. That means Tesla has indeed reached the point where profitability is no longer a concern; this is an important step in its maturation process and proof it is now a mainstream automaker.
Valuation and sentiment
The interesting thing is that despite the wave of positive news coming from Tesla itself, and in news items like entire countries planning to ban fossil fuel vehicles, the analyst community is never quite bullish on Tesla.
Source: Seeking Alpha
Authors here on Seeking Alpha are, on the whole, bearish leaning, while we see a similar story with Wall Street ratings. I simply don’t agree given the massive potential Tesla has and the fact that it is a proven winner. There are now countless EV manufacturers, but none of them have the scale, product line, and development time in the tool kit that Tesla does.
And as Tesla continues to take market share in this market that is growing so rapidly, there is a lot of room for analysts to figure out they are on the wrong side of Tesla.
Finally, let’s take a look at the EV to sales ratios of Tesla and a selection of competitors for the past year.
Valuations moved a lot higher coming out of the pandemic, but that’s true of just about any sector you can think of; a 100-year pandemic event will crush valuations. Out of that, however, came much higher EV stock valuations for all of the reasons I mentioned above; the market is booming and consumers are responding by buying EVs. However, the massive run-up in valuations has largely been unwound, and I think it is pretty interesting that Tesla, which trades at 13X EV to forward sales, is in the middle of this pack.
The others on the list can rightly be called startups and have nothing close to the brand recognition, product line, development capability, manufacturing capability, or anything else you can think of when compared to Tesla. That means Tesla’s competitive advantage should be secure for years to come, but it trades for a similar valuation to these others that are sort of like buying Tesla in 2012 or 2013; it might work out, but it might not. Tesla is a very long way down the road in terms of its lifecycle compared to these competitors, so the relative risk is much lower.
Tesla is not only winning today, but it is continuing to invest tirelessly into winning tomorrow. Production scale for models like the 3, S, X, and Y is critical because those vehicles are selling today and providing the cash to invest in things like Cybertruck and Semi. Tesla is committed to winning in all stages of the EV market, including not only consumer but commercial as well.
Semi production isn’t far off, and the company is already receiving interest from buyers. This has the potential for massive market share gains for Tesla in the next decade, but is not a story for 2021, to be clear.
The point here is that Tesla shares have been beaten down to levels that I believe are low enough to buy. The company has been a reliable winner into earnings reports, which we are slated to see in just over three weeks time. Its market share gains continue to pile up and with its massive head start in the world of EVs, Tesla looks like a clear long-term winner.
Valuations are rich but have come way down in recent weeks, and I’m going against the grain of recent pieces here on SA and am very bullish on Tesla, not only short term but longer term as well.
Risks abound, of course, as they do with any automaker. The core risk for any company is that its product doesn't work in the marketplace, but for Tesla, that seems a bit farfetched given the success it has had. Tesla now has a full lineup of vehicles that is ever-expanding, and its brand is hugely valuable given its de factor first-mover advantage in EVs, scaling before the rest of the world thought to do so.
Given this, the principal risk to Tesla's bull case is not in the business itself, but in the valuation discussion. It is possible that investors will choose to stop paying very high earnings multiples for Tesla in the coming years. This could occur due to missteps from Tesla - such as poor product design, overcapacity, or products consumers simply don't want - or it could come from the intense amount of competition that is likely to come online in the coming years.
That, to me, is the biggest risk of buying Tesla today because it certainly appears this company is doing all the right things to win in an EV-dominated world. Thus, if you can look past the current valuation, if you're going to buy an automaker, you want to look at Tesla first.