By Matthew A. Winkler
Much was achieved by Tesla Inc., the Palo Alto maker of the S, X, Y and 3 model vehicles, giving it a market capitalization of $539 billion, or more than Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp., Germany’s Volkswagen AG and Detroit’s General Motors Co. combined. Tesla was barely 26% of Toyota’s value at this point last year. None of the industry’s Top 10 exclusively manufactured EVs in 2015; this year the list included Shanghai-based Nio Inc. and Guangzhou-based XPeng Inc., EV upstarts in the world’s largest market.
Tesla and its Chinese competitors accounted for only 8% of the value of the Top 10 in 2019 — still a huge leap from zero percent in 2016. The three EV makers reported annual sales of $30.5 billion, or about 3% of total sales for the 10 largest companies, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Commentators and short sellers, who profit when a security’s price declines, predict that the companies’ shares will plummet before long because the companies’ values are far out of proportion to their more modest profits and revenues.
Since its initial public offering in June 2010, Tesla revenue increased 241 times as revenue for the rest of the industry rose 19%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Tesla shares appreciated 170 times when the comparable figure was three times for global peers. None of which persuades numerous Tesla detractors, who insist the company will fail as soon as the legacy automakers determine that EVs are profitable. That moment arrives this month when Tesla joins the S&P 500 as its record-breaking largest new member.
The doubters’ refusal to relent has cost them billions of dollars. Short seller James Chanos said in April that he was more bearish than ever before Tesla shares rallied 523%. Yahoo Finance said on May 28, 2019: “Tesla is now doomed. Here’s how its EV dream will soon come crashing down.” Tesla has since advanced 13 times. As recently as Sept. 17, U.S. News and World Report cited “3 reasons to be short” Tesla, before it climbed 34%.
Other investors know better. Cathie Wood’s Ark Innovation exchange traded fund, championing Tesla since the fund’s inception in 2014, is frequently No. 1 among 690 funds with at least $1 billion in assets. She equates Tesla overtaking Toyota in July as the most valuable automaker with another disruptive company: Amazon.com Inc. In 2006, nine years after its IPO and a few years after it became profitable, Amazon was similarly disfavored by 85% of its analysts, who didn’t recommend the shares when they traded at $32 apiece. Amazon now trades above $3,200, or 100 times what it fetched in 2006.
In China, where EV incentives are part of the government’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2060, Nio’s annual revenues have tripled since its September 2018 IPO. Nio shares surged 665% during the same period as global peers were gaining 47%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. XPeng’s 2020 third-quarter revenue is 4.4 times the amount during the same period a year ago. After the company’s August IPO, the shares rose 269% when global peers gained 29%.
These unprecedented valuations come at a point when the fossil fuel industry is reporting record losses, including Exxon Mobil Corp.’s $20 billion write-down this month. The market for zero-emission electric vehicles, meanwhile, is poised to become explosive, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In 2019, 2.1 million cars, or 2.5% of the cars sold worldwide were electric. By 2030, 26 million EVs will be sold, or 28% of total sales worldwide, according to analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. By 2040, 54 million EVs will be sold, or 58% of the global market, the analysts predict.
“China will continue to lead the global EV market, despite the short-term slowdown due to Covid-19,” said a May 19 report by BloombergNEF. “Much of the growth is driven by supportive central and municipal government policies in the short term, such as extended purchase incentives, fuel efficiency regulations, and the New Energy Vehicle mandate, and city restrictions on ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. Increasing automaker commitments and large amounts of investment in charging infrastructure will speed up mass-market adoption over the next 10 years, solidifying China’s leadership position. We expect China’s passenger EV (both battery electrics and plug-in hybrids) adoption to reach 20% of sales in 2025, 47% in 2030 and 71% in 2040,” according to the report by Colin McKerracher, the head of transport analysis at BloombergNEF.
XPeng’s revenue will grow 160% in 2021, followed by Nio’s 87% and Tesla’s 47%, when the average for the top 10 automakers will be 36%, according to the analyst estimates. They predict that XPeng, Nio and Tesla sales will increase another 94%, 68% and 28%, respectively, in 2022 when the Top 10 average will be 22%.
Joining the S&P 500 index is especially propitious for Tesla. Among more than 1,200 mutual funds worldwide using the S&P 500 as their benchmark, $4.7 trillion, or 93% of them, disclosed no ownership of Tesla shares in their most recent regulatory filings. If Tesla represents 1% of the index, it could easily receive $47 billion from the passively managed assets tracking the benchmark.
That’s another reason Tesla shows no signs retreating.