Tesla analyst balks at valuation despite regret over downgrade

Craig Trudell and Taylor Riggs

An analyst who picked an inopportune time to downgrade Tesla Inc. is expressing regret, giving Elon Musk credit, and yet still doubting the electric-car maker deserves such a rich valuation.

“I wish I hadn’t done it,” Joe Osha, an analyst at JMP Securities, said of his decision to cut Tesla to the equivalent of a hold from a buy on Oct. 3.

The move looked shrewd at first – the shares slumped 4.2% that day, after Tesla reported quarterly deliveries that fell short of a number the chief executive officer hyped the week before. But later in October, the billionaire shocked Wall Street with a profit, plus progress toward building a plant in China and bringing out his next electric vehicle, the Model Y. Tesla’s stock has more than doubled, closing Tuesday at a record $537.92.

“As an analyst, whenever you end up in this not-very-good situation where you’ve missed a big move in a stock, there’s always a temptation to just give in,” Osha told Bloomberg Television. But he’s reluctant to capitulate now. “I don’t think that I’m doing my job if I tell people to buy a stock at 20 times Ebitda,” he said.

As of Tuesday’s close, Tesla’s enterprise value is 27.2 times greater than the earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization that analysts expect the company to average in the next two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. General Motors Co. trades at a multiple of 2.6, and Ford Motor Co.’s is 2.3.

By this measure, Tesla’s valuation is rich even relative to technology stocks: Amazon.com Inc. trades at an 18.5 multiple, and Apple Inc.’s is 15.4.

Tesla traded down as much as 2% at the open of regular trading Wednesday in New York. The stock briefly pared declines during the pre-market session after Bloomberg News reported Glencore Plc, the world’s largest cobalt miner, is negotiating a long-term contract to ship the metal to the Model 3 maker’s new factory in Shanghai, citing people familiar with the matter.

Lone Ev Play

While Osha cautioned against buying Tesla now, he gave Musk props for the company’s dominance of the burgeoning market for battery-powered cars, calling the stock “really the only way to play electric vehicles right now.”

He left CES – the event formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show – last week unimpressed with the offerings that established automakers put on display.

“It’s a little shocking, here at the beginning of 2020, that the major auto OEMs in the U.S. and Europe still don’t have a product to compete with Tesla,” he said, referring to original equipment manufacturers. “Tesla’s competitive positioning is awesome.”