Tesla unsteady after Morgan Stanley drops coverage

Esha Dey
Bloomberg News

Elon Musk’s bewildering bid to take Tesla Inc. private has taken another turn that’s spurred trading tumult, with Morgan Stanley becoming the second firm to suspend coverage of the electric-car maker’s stock.

Whereas Goldman Sachs Group Inc. paired its announcement last week that it was removing its Tesla rating and price target with the disclosure of a reason why – that it would be advising Musk – Morgan Stanley hasn’t elaborated on what prompted its move. Mary Claire Delaney, a spokeswoman for the bank, and Tesla representatives declined to comment.

Morgan Stanley’s decision to restrict coverage spurred speculation that it could be playing a role in taking the privatization bid forward and helped spur the biggest intraday gain for Tesla shares since Aug. 7. That’s the day Musk set the effort in motion with his highly controversial initial tweet on the matter.

The stock surged as much as 5.3 percent and was up 3.9 percent to $320.30 as of 1:10 p.m. Tuesday in New York.

Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas was a longtime bull on the electric-car maker. The analyst, who had the equivalent of a hold rating on Tesla and a price target of $291, last downgraded the stock in May last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Musk said in his surprise tweet two weeks ago that he was planning to buy out some Tesla investors at $420 a share and had secured funding to do so. The board later said that it hadn’t received any formal offer from Musk, and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund – the investor that Chief Executive Officer Musk has described as a linchpin of his plan to take Tesla private – is reportedly considering buying a stake in another U.S. electric-car company.

Today’s rally aside, the confusion swirling around Musk’s efforts have started eroding the faith even of long-time bulls.

Earlier Tuesday, Consumer Edge analyst James Albertine cut his rating on Tesla to equal-weight, from overweight, citing uncertain outcomes from regulatory inquiries and potential penalties, as well as Musk’s ability to keep serving in such a broad capacity. This is his first downgrade of the stock since beginning coverage in July 2016, according to Bloomberg data.

“It is becoming more clear that he may be stretched too thin and could benefit from a CEO and/or COO hire,” Albertine wrote in a note to clients.