Tag Archives: Tesla

More Evidence Tesla Is In A Death Spiral

Reuters  report in which the news service discovered that almost all of the solar cell production at Tesla’s solar factory in Buffalo, New York is being sold overseas, primarily to a large Asian buyer.  Tesla’s Solar City business was given $750 million in State subsidies to build the plant in NY in exchange for employing at least 1,460 people and spending $500 million per yer in the State over 10 years.

The factory employs far less than the 1,460 required and the State has no hope of ever seeing the $500 million per year. The factory has become little more than a solar cell production facility for Panasonic paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

Panasonic produces the solar cells in the factory that were supposed to be used in Solar City’s solar panels.  The problem is that Solar City’s sales are approaching zero.  In California only 21 Solar City roof systems are connected to the State’s three investor-owned utilities as the end of February.  Panasonic is seeking to use the Buffalo plant to fulfill demand for U.S. made solar sales from foreign buyers (foreign solar manufactures can then export the solar panels back the use duty-free).

Earlier this year Panasonic announced that it was suspending plans to expand capacity at Tesla’s Gigafactory. It also suspended planned investment in Tesla’s Shanghai Gigafactory. The decision to curtail investment in Tesla’s U.S. Gigafactory was based on declining sales in the Models S and X and on Model 3 sales which are running below plan.   Panasonic’s Tesla EV battery business had losses exceeding $181  million in its fiscal year that ended in March.  Panasonic was likely not interested in repeating that experience as a “partner” in Tesla’s Shanghai operations.

What’s interesting about the two situations described above is that, more than anyone outside of Tesla’s corporate suite, Panasonic has an up close inside look at the truth behind Tesla’s operations and financials.  It’s quite clear that Panasonic is in financial loss containment mode with respect to its relationship with Tesla.  In this regard, Panasonic is signaling that Tesla is in deep trouble operationally and financially.

Panasonic’s withdrawal from its relationship with Tesla reflects the same critical information about Telsa as the steady stream of high level executive departures over the last year, the rate of which accelerated over the last 4-6 months.  Clearly the message is that Tesla is now in an irreversible death spiral.

Just for the record, I believe that Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley used the recent stock and convertible bond offering to suck fees out the deal that would help offset the likely losses the two banks will incur when Musk inevitably defaults on loans he owes to both firms.  It cost Tesla $300 million to purchase derivative protection against the potential shareholder dilution affect if Tesla’s stock were to rise the conversion price of $309 in the new converts.

But those two firms know that Tesla is going to hit the wall and that the stock has no chance of sniffing anywhere close to $309 from now to eternity. It’s highly likely that Goldman and Morgan Stanley forced this hedge structure on Tesla to rake in the $10 to $20 million in fees skimmed on the derivatives used for the hedge.  It was nothing more than vultures who are closest to the carcass grabbing the choicest cuts of meat.

Ironically, Morgan Stanley’s analyst issued a ”worst case” $10 valuation on Tesla. Unless the analyst is a complete idiot with little experience in distressed situations – which is possible – the $10 dollar valuation is Morgan Stanley’s “code” for, “the stock is worthless if Tesla has to file” (which it will sooner or later).

Put A Fork In Tesla – It’s Done

Tesla has been “done” for awhile but many of the Wall Street and investor “uber” bulls are finally starting to see this reality.  Amusingly, Wedbush’s Dan Ives issued a report in which he lowered his price target on Tesla stock from $270 to $235.   He refers to Tesla’s situation as a “code red situation.”  Quite frankly, a “code red situation” with regard to a company and its stock price should be regarded as, “sell your shares if you’re long and get out of the way.”

How someone with the credentials to occupy a stock analyst’s seat at a stock brokerage – even if it is just Wedbush, a retail pump and dump mill – can truly believe that Tesla stock is worth the $40 billion market cap at $230/share is truly mind-blowing.  As an example, consider just a basic valuation metric.  The average automotive car OEM trades at an enterprise to revenue ratio of 0.2x revenues.  At the high-end Toyota trades at 0.6x revenues. That’s because Toyota sports a 7.5% operating margin.  Tesla’s market cap plus debt is 2.6x revenues, or 13x greater than the industry mean.

It would be useful to use other valuation metrics but Tesla does not generate any profits beyond its highly suspicious gross profit as shown in its SEC filings. It would also be useful to know if Dan Ives owns any Tesla shares. Does he really put his money where is mouth is?

That aside, Tesla shares are going to zero. Tesla stock broke down last week, closing at its lowest price since December 21, 2016. The stock is down $44 (17.5%) since May 6th, when it closed at $255 after completing the stock/convertible deal. It’s down 43% from its $370 close after the “funding secured” incident (August 8, 2018). Today the shares traded as low as $195 before a dead-cat short-cover bounce that has lifted the shares back over $200.

Tesla has likely entered into an irreversible death spiral. The only question at this point is how long it will take for the stock to head below $10 and how long the Company can stay solvent. There are scattered reports that the latest price cuts have stimulated a brief increase in sales of the Model S and X, but nothing has been verified. To be sure, sales of the Model 3 have fallen off a cliff in Europe and China, as an increasing number of potential buyers are made aware of the poor quality and follow-up service of this vehicle.

At TSLA’s current cash-burn rate, it won’t make it until the end of the year without a sales turnaround miracle on par with Moses seeing God in a burning bush. I doubt the Company will ever be able to raise money again. The stock does not have value as an acquisition because I highly doubt any potential acquirer would pay an amount that would cover Tesla’s debt load plus other fixed obligations.

In my 34+ years of experience in the financial markets, I’ve witnessed several Pied Piper types who have led their faithful  off the cliff.  Elon Musk for my money is the greatest purveyor of cult of personality that I’ve observed in my lifetime.  I don’t know how else to explain, at least for myself, how so many seemingly intelligent people continue to support Musk’s glaringly indisputable fraud.

The Wheels Are Coming Off Musk And Tesla

Literally, the wheels are coming off. Panasonic, which supplies batteries that it manufactures for Tesla at the Gigafactory in Nevada announced that it was cutting back on its plans to expand production capacity at the plant. It also announced that it was suspending plans to produce batteries at Tesla’s planned Shanghai Gigafactory. In an article in a Japanese business publication, Panasonic had less than flattering things to say about working with Tesla. The move by Panasonic at the Nevada Gigafactory likely reflects concern over the falling demand for Teslas.

Tesla is sticking by its guidance to produce and deliver 360-400k vehicles in 2019. In Q1, Tesla delivered 63k vehicles – a 252k annualized rate. David Einhorn, the proprietor of the high profile Greenlight Capital hedge fund, is vocally short Tesla. His team believes Tesla will deliver less than 250k vehicles in 2019. Q1 and Q2 will likely have higher deliveries than Q3 and Q4 because of the temporary “bump” in demand from rolling out the Model 3 in Europe and China in Q1. I believe there’s a chance that deliveries in 2019 are closer to 200k than 250k.

This graphic shows the demand drop for the Models S&X combined in, Norway, one of Tesla’s largest markets (visit @teslacharts to see more well-produced analytic charts like this):

That chart looks similar or worse in all of Tesla’s markets, including the U.S. After a brief bump in deliveries from the effect from the start of delivering the Model 3 to Europe’s and China’s “must-have the latest tech device” crowd, the Model 3 chart will soon look like the delivery chart for the S/X. European’s are already complaining about the poor reliability and service on the Model 3.

Tesla also rolled out its leasing program, which left most analysts, including me, thoroughly baffled. The lease program ostensibly is primarily to boost demand for the Model 3. But Tesla does not offer a lease for the basic $35,000 Model 3. It also announced that the basic Model 3 would only be offered for online purchase. The lease for the Standard Range-plus Model 3 is structured such that the lessee will need to put down roughly $4k upfront. The lowest monthly payment option is $504 and there’s no purchase option at the end of the lease. I won’t go into Musk’s rationale for this because it would be a waste of your time to read about it. In short, the ill-conceived lease program will likely have a minimal effect on unit deliveries.

There’s three primary reasons Tesla’s sales are falling rapidly: 1) the 50% drop in the tax credit (which drops even lower to $1875 starting July 1st this year and goes away completely after December 31st);   2) Tesla’s growing reputation for poor reliability and even worse service;   3) Growing competition in the luxury EV space.

With each passing week, the operational decisions and musings of Musk become more bizarre. The growth narrative is over. The Company is shrinking its service centers and delivery infrastructure in order to cut costs. Senior employees are leaving pretty much on a weekly basis. In fact, last week the senior manager who was responsible for building Tesla’s lithium ion battery supply chain from May 2017 to April 2019 left the Company. Perhaps more troubling, Tesla’s Director of Global Treasury also left recently. This function of this position is to oversee the Company’s worldwide cash management and liquidity activities. It’s likely this person, Pedro Glaser, was not interested in sticking around until the cash runs out.

The Company continues to spiral downward in a toxic cloud of operational dysfunction, financial deterioration, decaying auto industry fundamentals and growing fraud. It remains a mystery to anyone who examines Tesla closely how the stock manages to remain at a level that assigns a $47 billion market cap to the Company. I suspect there’s a continuous short squeeze on the shares because the short-interest is quiet high and the “free” float of shares is low relative to the overall short-interest. Ultimately the shorts will prevail – of that I’m 100% confident.

In my view, Tesla continues to circle the drain. The stock is down nearly 20% YTD in the context of one of the most torrid upside moves in the overall stock market in history. The stock appears ready to test the $250 level again. If it drops below that, it could fall below $200 quickly.

Tesla: Enron Status Secured

Elon Musk a has long track record of being long on promises and short on deliveries – literally and figuratively.  His motive, as has been self-professed repeatedly on Twitter,  is to torment short-sellers by driving the stock higher with fraudulent tweets.  But underlying Musk’s garish bravado and overtly fraudulent financial reports is a business operation that, by all indications, is slowly disintegrating.

Musk has ushered in the long-awaited introduction of the $35,000 Model 3 with a tweet two days earlier aimed at pushing the stock higher to squeeze short-sellers. Musk’s highly questionable tweet tactic drove the stock price up $21 over two days. The stock did a $10 belly-flop when the Model 3 announcement hit the tape, accompanied by an announcement that Tesla was cutting the size of the workforce for the 3rd time this year and would transition the sales operation to online-only.

While Musk spends an inordinate amount of time scheming to squeeze short-sellers, Tesla’s business operations and financial flexibility is getting squeezed by reality. All Ponzi scheme’s eventually fall prey to the laws of economics. Musk’s Ponzi has been proliferated by a financial system flooded with printed money  and by a Government that no longer applies the Rule of Law to billionaires with the ability to buy protection from regulatory enforcement.

Arcadia Economics‘ Chris Marcus and I spent some time on Wednesday discussing the similarities between Tesla and Enron and Elon Musk and Bernie Madoff:

Just How Indebted Is Elon Musk?

Tesla continues to head south since hitting its post-earnings high of $321. It’s down nearly $100 from the $380 post “funding secured” tweet all-time high close on August 7th. The stock has diverged negatively from the SPX since mid-January. By all accounts the order-rate and delivery rate of Tesla’s 3 models is dropping quickly. While there may be a brief boost in sales from  Model 3 deliveries into Europe and China in Q1, it looks like Model 3 orders and deliveries in North America have slowed to a trickle. Complaints about the poor quality of the Model and poor service from Tesla are already populating European automobile forums.

There have been wide-spread reports from people who are having trouble getting canceled $1,000 reservation deposits on Model 3’s refunded. Several have reported receiving the refund only to have the check bounce after it’s deposited. Consumer Reports removed its highly sought recommendation rating from the Model 3 after citing poor quality control and reliabity. This past Wednesday Tesla’s General Counsel, who left his Washington, DC law practice and took the job two months ago, announced he was leaving the Company. The stream of high-level c-suite departures has been nearly continuous over the last year.

Tesla is staring at the $920 million convertible bond maturity due next Friday (March 1st). I have no idea how Tesla will address this, as it seems by many indicators that the $3.9 billion in cash Tesla posted on its year-end balance sheet may not be accurate, in addition to showing negative working capital of $1.7 billion. That said, I would not bet that Tesla will default this soon on its debt.

On Friday it was reported that Elon Musk took out $61 million in mortgages on his five California mansions, $50 million of which was new funding and $11 million was refinancing (note:  rumor of this deal was in the market a week earlier). Morgan Stanley underwrote the mortgages. I would suggest that Musk possibly needed the money to meet margin calls on his stock-holdings, against which Musk has borrowed heavily. Otherwise it makes no sense to me why an alleged billionaire would need to trifle with $61 million in mortgages. Morgan Stanley is one of Musk’s primary stock custodians. In that regard, I’m wondering if Morgan Stanley forced the issue.  It’s a good bet that Musk has pledged and hypothecated most of his assets as collateral against indebtedness. I have no doubt that when Tesla hits the wall, Musk’s wealth will largely vanish.

Elon Musk’s Legacy Of Unchecked Fraud Continues

At 5:15 p.m. on February 19th, Elon Musk tweeted that Tesla would produce 500,000 cars on 2019.  The headline hit news terminals globally. The stock jumped over $1 in after hours trading.  Four hours later Musk tweeted that he meant Tesla would be producing cars at an annualized rate of 500,000 by the end of 2019.  After-hours trading was closed when that “correction” hit Twitter.

The next morning the Wall Journal reports that Tesla’s General Counsel, Dane Butswinkas, is quitting Tesla to return to his law practice in DC – two months after he took the job. Butswinkas’ role at  was widely regarded to be Musk’s highly compensated Twitter babysitter per the terms of Musk’s SEC settlement related to Musk’s securities fraud “420 secured” tweet.

Tesla will rival Enron as the biggest stock fraud in this century, if not U.S. financial history.  To be sure it sells cars that generate revenues.  But the alleged profitability shown in Q3 and Q4 financials is likely nothing more that the product of GAAP accounting manipulation.  Elon Musk has been making promises and performance projections which fall miserably short of reality for several years.  He overtly violated securities laws with the $420 secured” tweet, which cost investors $10’s of millions of dollars – longs and shorts.

Tesla stock jumped on Monday, February 11th after analysts from Canaccord and Wedbush issued strong buys based on “strong demand for the Model 3,” putting absurd price targets on the stock. While both analysts’ analysis and opinions can be summarily dismissed based on gross negligence in presenting facts, you should be aware that the Canaccord analyst had a buy recommendation on Solar City stock from $53 in February 2015 all the way down to down $19.60 in May 2016. Tesla acquired Solar City in the summer of 2016 in a highly controversial deal,  likely fraudulent,  that has turned out to be an unmitigated  disaster.

I suspect the motive for both analysts’ arguably fraudulent stock reports is to generate demand for Telsa shares that can be used to unload shares on behalf of a large seller through both brokerage firms’ retail stock distribution network (brokers and investment advisors). T Rowe Price, formerly the largest shareholder outside of Musk,  cut its position in half during Q4, unloading 8.4 million shares. Insiders have been unloading shares non-stop, with not one insider purchase in the last 3 months.  Two of the most respected investors on Wall Street – Stanley Drukenmiller and Jim Chanos – are short Tesla.

With the tax credit cut in half January 1st and a growing reputation for poor quality control and even worse service, Tesla’s deliveries of all three models have literally plunged off a cliff since Q4. Officially Model 3 sales have dropped 60% for Q4. But sources that keep track of the numbers separately from the Company show a steeper drop-off in sales. As an example, the Marina Del Rey service center previously had been Tesla’s premier delivery center. But deliveries have dropped from average of 16 deliveries per day in Q4 to less than 1 per day in February through February 11th (2.1 deliveries per day in January). Sales in China and Europe have also fallen off a cliff, as superior competing EVs are becoming available.

The latest “500,000 production in 2019” tweet is the just latest in a long list of stunts pulled by Musk in an attempt to pump up the stock price. The departure of the General Counsel is one of many high level executive departures to leave in the last two years after spending just a brief tenure at the Company. Remarkably, the main stream financial media has little to no interest in investigating the nature of the circumstances of the executive departures or the unwillingness of regulators to keep Musk in check.

Tesla is perhaps the most egregious fraud in U.S. financial history.  It has been allowed to unfold out in the open, enabled by the complete lack of regulatory enforcement. Tesla and Elon Musk are emblematic of the unmitigated corruption that has engulfed the U.S. political, financial and economic system. Tesla’s saga represents the Government’s total disregard for Rule of Law. The message sent is that it is now open season for any person or entity with enough money to buy political protection to grab as much wealth as possible before the system collapses

Tesla: Can You Smell The Blood In The Water?

“The demand for – the demand for Model 3 is insanely high. The inhibitor is affordability. It’s just like people literally don’t have the money to buy the car. It’s got nothing to do with desire. They just don’t have enough money in their bank account.” – Elon Musk on the Q4 earnings conference call

The following commentary/analysis is from the February 3rd issue of the Short Seller’s Journal.

Tesla’s Failed Business Model – The statement above is an actual comment from Elon Musk on the earnings call. I literally had to ask a couple of people who were on the call if I had misread the transcript or if it was a mistake in transcription. I’m not sure if Elon erringly thought he was sharing profound insight into the laws of economics or if the relationship between price and demand eludes his understanding.

It was announced in late January, before Tesla posted earnings, that the Saudi Public Investment Fund had hedged its 4.9% investment in Tesla’s stock (8.33 million shares). It accomplished this via a structured note (OTC derivative) created by JP Morgan. In exchange for downside price protection, the Saudis gave up participation in any gains should Tesla’s shares rise in price. My guess is that the Saudis also paid a hefty transaction fee to JP Morgan on the order of 3-4% on the market value of the shares hedged.

It did not take long for the Saudi fund to abandon its investment in Tesla. The Saudi stake in Tesla was announced shortly after Tesla’s Q3 2018 earnings release. Musk’s infamous “funding secured” tweet was issued right after the Saudi stake was revealed to the public.

My best guess is that the 8.3 million shares where accumulated during July around an average price in the low $300’s. It’s also possible that one of the large U.S. fund holders sold a big block of shares that was crossed into the Saudi fund. Hard to say for sure but I would surmise that JP Morgan and/or Goldman Sachs (Tesla’s primary investment banks) know the truth.

If the hedging derivative was structured during the month before it was announced, the average price of the hedge is likely $320. Let’s assume the Saudis locked in a $20/share profit – $166 million. Netting out all trading and transaction fees (at a 3.5% fee, the derivative hedge would cost $93 million) the Saudi fund maybe netted about $60 million on the trade. But why did the Saudis bail on the investment after less than six months?

For me the demand/price comment exemplifies the Tesla tragicomedy. The Company reported its Q4 on Thursday after the market closed. Until the 10-K is release (40-60 days), I can not layout a detailed dissection of Tesla’s accounting games. But needless to say it appears as if Tesla’s CFO employed all of the same accounting schemes as were used in Q3 in order to manufacture a GAAP “net profit.” Notwithstanding this, the Company “missed” the Wall St consensus estimate and warned that it may or may not generate a profit in Q1 2019.

Speaking of the CFO, it was announced at the end of call – literally before the Company hung up the phone in order to avoid questions on the matter – that the CFO would be leaving the Company sometime in early 2019 though no specific date was set. He is to be replaced by a little-known 34-year old VP in the finance department, Zach Kirkhorn. Kirkhorn prior to Tesla was a “business analyst” McKinsey & Co. This is a fancy term for someone who helps design computerized enterprise applications for McKinsey clients. Prior to McKinsey, Kirkhorn worked at Microsoft.

Kirkhorn was a curious choice becasue he stunningly has little apparent experience in accounting and finance. Typically CFO’s have either worked their way up the accounting/controller side of a company or are hired from a similar role from the outside. This move left everyone scratching their head but reflects the general dysfunctionality that pervades the Company.

Telsa has experienced a stunning drop-off in orders since the end of 2018 that appears to have begun during late December. The $7500 tax credit was cut in half starting January 1st. Data from Europe show that EV sales fall off a cliff when the tax credit disappears. The chart to the right illustrates this by showing Tesla’s Model 3 sales over the last 12 months (from @TeslaCharts).

The jump in December M3 sales is a product of huge incentive programs Tesla implemented to stimulate sales ahead of the cut in the tax credit. As you can see, since July TSLA has averaged 20,000 unit sales per month. The January number is largely the expected cliff dive related to the drop in the tax credit. However, the large drop-off is also likely attributable to potential EV buyers waiting for the spring roll-out of the Audi E-Tron and Porsche Taycan. Porsche announced in January that it was doubling production in response to demand.

Briefly on Tesla’s numbers. Taking $139 million of net income attributable to stockholders at face value – i.e. assuming the accounting is 100% clean – nearly $100 million of that is from Tesla’s sale of greenhouse gas and zero emission vehicle credits. If we assume just $39 million worth of GAAP manipulation used to generate “income” (the real number is multiples of $39 milion) small amount of accounting games were used to generate GAAP “income,” reversing out the GHG/ZEV credits takes Tesla’s actual net income to zero. This means that the ability of Tesla’s business model to generate actual cash income is based solely energy credit sales. This is not a valid sustainable business model.

In the short term, the next big event is the maturity of the $920 million convertible bond due in March. It looks like Tesla’s stock price will be below the price at which bondholders will want to convert. Additionally, the deadline to reset the conversion price lower has passed. This suggests that Tesla will use cash to pay off the converts.

But here’s the problem:  At quarter end, Tesla’s balance sheet showed a working capital deficit (current assets minus current liabilities) of $1.7 billion.  Of the $8.3 billion in current assets, $3.6 billion is cash. However, of the $9.99 billion in current liabilities, $3.4 billion is accounts payable. It would appear that Tesla will be stiffing its suppliers, vendors and service providers if it uses the cash, as reported, to pay the converts.

I don’t know how Tesla will resolve this issue but I suspect the maturing bond will paid. Otherwise the Company will be forced to file for bankruptcy of some flavor. I don’t see this event happening until at least the end of 2019. This is why I moved my long-dated Tesla OTM puts out to June 2020.

Regardless of this immediate issue, I expect to see continued deterioration in Tesla sales across all three of its models. Snapshots from around the country from major metropolitan areas show lots full of unsold Teslas – all three models – with the inventory stored in these lots growing by the week.

Since I wrote the above analysis for the Short Seller’s Journal issue released this past Sunday, it was reported that Tesla has not received EU approval to sell Model 3’s with autopilot installed. Most of the Model 3’s pre-ordered in Europe were for the Model 3 with autopilot. This little factoid was in direct contradiction to the Company’s announcement, reiterated by Musk in the earnings letter to shareholders, that the Model 3 was fully approved in Europe.

There’s clearly something amiss with Tesla’s liquidity. It’s been reported by customers in Germany that Tesla is demanding full payment for Model 3’s ordered before the Company will deliver the vehicle. Perhaps a tempest in a teapot? A Model S owner who had canceled his Model 3 order and requested a refund of the $1000 deposit posted a copy of the refund check on Twitter – only Tesla had placed a “stop payment” on the check:  LINK

Meanwhile the Company has been laying of workers and cutting prices on feverishly on the Model 3. This is in response to a cliff-dive in demand since January 1st, especially in China. Based on this new evidence, I don’t know if Tesla will be able to make the $920 million convertible bond payment. I would seem possible, given the anecdotal evidence, that Tesla has misrepresented the cash balance on its year-end financials (unaudited as of December 31st). No one knows the answer to that question right now except the banks holding the alleged cash as shown on Tesla’s year-end balance sheet.

Whether or not Tesla can complete a financial hail Mary and address the convertible bond repayment, this company is circling the drain. As far superior competitive models hit the market, demand for Teslas could possibly disappear completely. The stock will drop to zero and the creditors will be left to fight for standing and priority in bankruptcy. I can smell that blood in the water.

In the Short Seller’s Journal I cover economic analysis combined with ideas for shorting the stock market, including market timing, capital management and the use of options.  In the latest issue I presented ideas for using puts to short Tesla, including full disclosure of my trades in the name.  You can learn more about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal.

The Trade War Is Not The Problem With The Global Economy

I chuckle when the hedge fund algos grab onto “positive” trade war headlines and trigger a sharp spike in stock futures.  Settlement of the trade war between the Trump Government and China will do nothing to prevent a global economic recession – a recession which will likely deteriorate into a painful depression.  The Central Bank “QE” maneuver was successful in camouflaging and deferring the symptoms of economic collapse.  Ironically, treatment of the symptoms made everyone feel better for a while but the money printing ultimately served only to exacerbate the underlying financial, fiscal, economic and social problems that blossomed after the internet/tech bubble popped.

Trade war “hope” headlines coughed up by Larry Kudlow last Friday morning were designed to offset the disappointing job report and sent the Dow up 156 points in the first 12 minutes of trading. But alas, the gravity of deteriorating systemic fundamentals took over and the Dow ended up down 558 points:

All three major indices closed below their key moving averages (21, 50, 200 dma). I wanted to show the chart of the Nasdaq because, as you can see, the 50 dma (yellow line) crossed below the 200 dma (red line) last week. This started to occur for the SPX on Thursday. The Dow’s 50 dma remains above its 200 dma, but that will likely change over the next few weeks.

The point here is that investors, at least large sophisticated investors, continue to use rallies to unload positions. The stock market has a long a way to fall before the huge disparity between valuations and fundamentals re-converges. This reality will not be altered even if Trump and China manage to reach some type of trade agreement. Nothing but a painful “reset” can correct the massive overload of fiat currency and debt that has flooded the global financial system over the last ten years.

I also believe that a massive credit market liquidity problem is slowly engulfing the system. This is a contributing factor in the yield curve inversion, which moved from the 3yr/5yr interval to the 2yr/5yr interval last week, thereby reflecting the market’s growing awareness of the percolating systemic problems. In 2008 the liquidity problem began with widespread sub-prime bond defaults and was compounded by derivatives connected to the sub-prime credit structures. This time, it appears as if the credit market problem is starting in the investment grade bond and leveraged bank/senior loan markets.

It was reported last week that $4 billion was removed from leveraged loan funds over the last three weeks. Although the loans are leveraged, these are typically senior secured “bank debt equivalent” loans. Money is leaving this segment of the loan market because of a growing perception that the leveraged senior loan market is becoming risky. Loan and bond investors are more risk-averse than stock investors. They thus tend to be more vigilant on the ability of debt borrowers to make loan payments.

Currently there’s a record high amount of triple-B rated corporate debt outstanding. This amount outstanding is higher than any other rating category. At some point, as the economy continues to weaken, a large percentage of this triple-B rated will be downgraded. Assuming cash continues to flee the loan market, and as a lot of low investment grade paper is moved into junk-rated territory, it will exert huge pressure on bond yields. It will also make it much harder for marginal credits to raise capital to stay alive.

General Electric losing access to the commercial paper market is an example of the market cutting off a source of liquidity to companies that need it. It’s also a great example of a company with a large amount of outstanding debt that is headed toward the junk bond pile (GE is one notch away from a junk rating – at one time it was a triple-A rated company). Ford is headed in the same direction – the stock of both companies trades below $10. If this is happening to a companies like GE and Ford, it will soon happen to smaller companies en masse.

The commentary above is an excerpt from the latest issue of the Short  Seller’s Journal.  Also included is an updated analysis on Tesla and why I am increasing my short exposure in the stock plus follow-up on my Vail Resorts (MTN) short presented a week earlier. You can learn more about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

 

Tesla’s Q3 GAAP “Net Income:” Manipulation If Not Outright Fraud

I perused Tesla’s Q3 10-Q and scrutinized the footnotes to figure out, to the extent possible, where Tesla manipulated GAAP accounting standards and outright “cooked” its numbers. Before I had a chance to analyze the 10-Q, others had already posted their findings on Twitter or in Seeking Alpha articles. In the analysis below, I’ve double-checked and confirmed the findings presented by others. In addition, where appropriate, I’ve added my findings to the previous work of others and explained how and why Tesla’s numbers are highly misleading, if not outright fraudulent.

Net income – Tesla reported GAAP income of $311.5 million. But what it did not disclose when it released its earnings report was that $189 million of that income was generated from selling regulatory credits – Greenhouse Gas (GHG) credits and ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) credits. Automakers in 10 States are required to sell a specified number of electric or hybrid vehicles within the State. Credits are earned for the number of emission-friendly vehicles sold. Automakers are required to maintain a level of credits based on each automaker’s overall vehicle sales volume within the State. GHG credits function in a similar way at the Federal level.

Some companies, like Tesla, generate more GHG and ZEV credits than required to be in compliance with the law. Companies with excess credits are allowed to sell their excess credits to car manufactures and other companies that manufacture carbon-emission equipment and do not generate enough credits to be in compliance with the regulation. Selling excess credits over the past few years has been a significant source of cash flow generation for Tesla. The money raised by selling these credits is accounted for as income under GAAP.

The problem is that, in its presentation of its Q3 earnings, Elon Musk and the CFO did not disclose that nearly 61% of its GAAP net income was derived from selling these credits. While Tesla referenced that $52 million was generated from ZEV credit sales in Q3, they did not disclose the $137 million GHG credit sales in the earnings press release or the analyst conference call. Rather, they postured as if the net income was generated thru cost-efficiencies and sales volume. The $137 million in GHG credit sales was buried in the 10-Q.

In the chart above, you can see that TSLA’s use of GHG credit sales has been inconsistent over time. In all probability, Musk chooses the timing and quantity of the credit sales based on when he needs to generate cash. It’s pretty obvious that he decided to unload a massive quantity in Q3 in order to help generate the GAAP net income and positive cash flow he had been promising for months.

Technically, the manner in which Musk utilized,and disclosed the use of, ZEV/GHG credits to manufacture income, is highly deceptive. Selling regulatory-derived environmental credits is a low-quality, unreliable source of income. As Tesla’s competition ramps up production and sales of EV’s, the supply of credits will escalate rapidly. This will drive down the resale value of these credits toward zero. And there’s always the possibility that regulatory requirements will be rolled back. Over time, this source of income and cash will disappear.

Warranty Provision – Every quarter companies that issue warranties have to take a warranty expense provision, which is an estimate of the quarterly expense that will be incurred under warranties on products sold by the company. The warranty provision hits the income statement as an expense. The idea is to match estimated quarterly warranty costs that will be incurred from selling products covered by the warranty each quarter. Warranty expense is part of the cost of goods sold. The information on warranty expenses is found in the footnotes (this is standard).

In Q3 this year, Tesla expensed $187.8 million, or $2,249 per car delivered, vs $118.6 million, or $2,913 per car delivered in Q3 2017. If Tesla had kept the cost per vehicle delivered constant, the provision for warranty expense in Q3 would have been $243.2 million, or $55.4 million higher than was expensed in Q3. In this case, Tesla’s cost of goods sold would have been $55.4 million higher and the gross profit would have been $55.4 million lower. This is part of the reason Tesla’s gross profit margin was much higher than anyone expected. It also translates into a $55.4 million net income benefit.

In Q3 2108, Tesla sold a little more than double the number of vehicles sold in Q3 2017. At the very least, and to be prudent, in Q3 this year Tesla should have at used at least double the warranty provision it used in Q3 2017. This is especially true since the Model 3 is in its debut model year and will likely require higher than expected warranty-based repairs. The probability of greater than expected warranty repairs for cars sold during Q3 is even higher when taking into account the high number of production difficulties the Company encountered – and about which Musk whined publicly.

Using a warranty expense estimation method simply based on doubling the warranty provision taken in Q3 2017 – given that Tesla sold more than double number vehicles, Tesla’s warranty provision expense would have been $237.2 million in Q3 rather than the $187.8 million recorded, which would have reduced net income by $49.4 million.

To be sure, the warranty expense provision can be adjusted based on using the actual amount of warranty costs incurred over time. But given the limited history of Tesla, and given that the Model 3 is a 1st-year production automobile with noted production and quality control issues, Tesla probably should have used a warranty provision that was higher on a per car delivered basis than the number used in Q3 2017. But, then again, Musk and his CFO were goal-seeking positive net income and thus likely decided to reduce the provision per vehicle delivered by nearly 23% and pray that they figure out a way to bury an increase in the actual amount spent on warranty repairs in future quarters.

Inventory Write-Down – An inventory write-down is recorded as an expense in the quarter in which it is taken. For a company like TSLA, an inventory write-down occurs for excess or obsolete inventories (unsalable cars, worthless parts and supplies) or when the carrying value of certain cars held in inventory is greater than the realizable value. The latter would primarily apply to cars taken back by Tesla under lease guarantees (keep this tidbit in mind for reference below) or cars held in inventory deemed unsalable because the cost of fixing manufacturing defects is greater than the gross margin generated from selling the car.

Over the last six quarters, Tesla’s inventory write-down as a percentage of total inventory has averaged 1.4%. In Q3 2017, the write-down was 1.1% of inventory; in Q2 2018 it was 0.9%). However, in Q3 Tesla’s inventory write-down was 0.4% of inventory. In terms of numbers, Tesla’s inventory expense in Q3 was $12.4 million vs $26.2 million in Q3 2017 and $24.6 million in Q2 2018. This chart shows the degree to which it appears as if Tesla purposely minimized the inventory write-down expense in Q3 2018:

(Kudos to @TeslaCharts for the charts he created illustrating the extreme inconsistencies in Tesla’s Q3 financial statements)

The effect of taking an inventory write-down that is far lower than the historical average reduces the cost of sales and thereby increases the gross, operating and net profits. If TSLA had used the historical average of 1.4%, the expense taken for the Q3 inventory write-down would have been $46.2 million, or $33.8 million more than the $12.4 million used. The reduced write-down had the effect of reducing cost of sales by $33.8 million and increasing gross profit and net income by $33.8. This also contributed to the large increase in the gross profit margin in Q3 vs historical quarters.

The inventory write-down charge was clearly an extreme outlier in relation to the historical application of this write-down over the previous six quarters. Make no mistake, the minimization of the inventory write-down expense in Q3 was a blatant effort to exploit accounting standards for the purpose of reducing GAAP expenses and thereby increasing GAAP income. The discrepancy between the Q3 charge vs historicals predictably was not addressed by the CFO or by analysts in the Q3 earnings conference call.

Tesla’s Actual Net Income? Telsa reported $311 million of GAAP net income. Of this, $83.2 million represents the highly questionable reduction in costs attributable to lower than usual warranty and inventory write-down expenses. Tesla also sold an unusually high amount of GHG/ZEV credits, which boosted net income by $189 million. While this is a source of actual cash income, it’s not a long-term sustainable source of income. Combined, these items accounted for $272 million – or 87.5% – Tesla’s GAAP net income in Q3.

In addition to the items presented above, Tesla “achieved” significant and highly questionable reductions in the expenses taken for R&D and SG&A. In Q3 Tesla recorded $350 million for R&D and $729 million for SG&A – $1.079 billion combined. In Q2 Tesla recorded $386 million for R&D and $750 million for SG&A – $1.36 billion combined. Tesla wants the market to believe that R&D and SG&A expense declined by $290 million from Q2 to Q3, despite the fact that Tesla’s overall operations were expanded to accommodate a large increase in vehicles sold in Q3 vs Q2. On average, over the last six quarters, R&D plus SG&A has been running at 39.5% of revenues. In Q2 2018, these charges were 33.84% of revenues. But in Q3 2018, R&D and SG&A dropped to 17.7% of revenues.

To be sure, there are “economies of scale” with respect to R&D and SG&A expenditures as revenues grow. But for R&D and SG&A to decline nearly 50% as a percentage of revenues from Q2 is simply not credible, unless Tesla intentionally drastically cut back on R&D and administrative/sales functions in Q3. Without question, Musk and his CFO played games with the R&D and SG&A expense accounts in order to reduce the charges expensed for these categories in Q3 vs the previous six quarters and especially vs Q2 2018.

It’s quite possible that Tesla loaded R&D and SG&A expenses into Q2 that technically belonged in Q3 knowing that it was going to report a big loss in Q2 ($717 million loss in Q2) anyway and had promised profitability in Q3. But it’s impossible to know if this occurred without having access to the inside books and bank statements. The stunning plunge as a percentage of revenues for these items in Q3 vs Q2 is the equivalent of asking us to believe in the existence of Santa Clause.

If we give the Company the highly doubtful benefit of synergies which reduced R&D and SG&A to just 20% of revenues – despite the fact that it has been running nearly double 20% over the last six quarters – the combined charge for these accounts would have been $1.219 billion rather than the $1.079 billion used by Tesla (note, at the very least it would have been reasonable to assume that the expense level at a minimum stayed flat vs Q2, meaning I’m being overly generous in my assumption). Under this scenario, Tesla’s operating expenses would have been higher by $140 million.

Adding this $140 million in incremental expense to the $49.4 million warranty expense manipulation and $33.8 million inventory write-down manipulation implies that Tesla’s GAAP net income was overstated by $223 million. Using the historical experience for these expense accounts, including an overly generous benefit in the assumption I use for “normalized” R&D/SG&A, Tesla’s GAAP income as reported would have been $88 million instead of $311 million. Tesla’s $88 of net income as adjusted less the $189 million in income attributable to GHG/ZEV sales turns the $311 net income reported as net income into a $101 million loss.

In addition to the questionable accounting used by Tesla to generate $311 million of GAAP “net income,” Tesla engaged in questionable, if not problematic, balance sheet maneuvers to boost the level of cash presented at the end of Q3. The purpose of this was to create the illusion of solvency. In the Q3 10-Q, Tesla shows a cash balance of $2.96 billion. At the end of Q2 Tesla had $3.11 billion.

Tesla’s accounts payable jumped jumped by $566 million from Q2 to Q3. Companies will stretch out their bills in order to conserve cash. Tesla has made a habit out of dragging its feet on paying vendors, suppliers and service providers as evidenced by the large number of court filings from smaller vendors who are forced to get a court order for payment. The same dynamic applies to “other accrued liabilities,” which contains other short term liabilities for which payment has not been made (payroll, taxes, interest and smallish items).

While accounts payable and other accrued liablities will naturally rise with the organic growth of a company, the rise in Tesla’s payables year over year is nothing short of extraordinary. Through the first nine months of 2018, per the statement of cash flows, Tesla generated $1.6 billion in cash “financing” from “stretching out” its payables vs $170 million in the first nine months of 2017. While Tesla’s revenues nearly doubled over the same period, this amount of unpaid bills has a reason behind it.  The net effect of withholding payment of its bills longer than necessary is that it makes the cash on Tesla’s balance sheet appear larger than otherwise. Accrued payables and other short term liabilities are the equivalent of a short term loan to a company. These liabilities should be treated as a form of short term debt.

Subtracting current liabilities ($9.78 billion) from current assets ($7.92 billion) shows that Tesla has negative working capital of $1.86 billion. Technically Tesla is insolvent, which explains the games the Company plays with its supplier/vendors.

Another curiosity on Tesla’s balance sheet was accounts receivable, which more than doubled, from $569 billon to $1.155 billion. In the footnotes under “credit risk,” Tesla disclosed that “one entity represented 10% or more of our total accounts receivable balance” at the end of Q3, whereas previously no entity represented 10% of receivables. In other words, one entity owed Tesla at least $115 million.

When asked about the big jump in A/R during the earnings conference call, the CFO dismissed it by claiming that the quarter ended on a Sunday. It’s beyond absurd that the analysts on the call accepted this answer without further interrogation. Subsequent to the release of the 10Q, a company spokesman told a reporter from the L.A. Times who had inquired about the 10% disclosure that the receivable was attributable to a large partner bank for car loans issued to U.S. customers. The spokesman said that “all of this receivable was cleared in the first few days of Q4.”

The inference was that Tesla sold $115 million or more worth of cars after 5 p.m. on Friday and over the last weekend of its quarter financed by one bank that could not be processed by the banking system. If this were truly the case, why not just state this as fact openly rather than leaving the market guessing what might have happened? 10% of $1.155 billion is considered “meaningful” under strict GAAP, which means this issue requires more detailed disclosure. The CFO’s vague response to the question about the issue reflects intentional obfuscation of the matter.

Unfortunately, we may or may not be able to figure out exactly what happened when the 10-K is released. I’m not optimistic that the Company will come clean. However, an analyst posted an assessment on Twitter (@4xRevenue) which seems to be a very reasonable explanation to this mystery. This analyst believes that the 10% receivable is from a lease partner (a bank) who has underwritten leases that contain Residual Value Guarantees from Tesla.

Tesla had been offering Residual Value Guarantees (RVG) on leases as an incentive to generate sales. The RVG is a guarantee from Tesla on the value of the car at the end of a lease. In order to stimulate lease-based sales, auto companies will guarantee the lease-end value of car at a level that is typically above the market value for that car at the end of the lease. It’s a “back-door” mechanism used to lower the monthly cost of a lease to the lessee.

If the receivable in question is from a bank that financed Model S&X leases, it means that a large number of vehicles came off lease at the end of Q3 and the bank was returning these cars to Tesla. The “receivable” is the guaranteed residualy value of these vehicles. It also means that Tesla likely will have a large cash payment (at least $115 million) to make to the bank that would be connected to the RVG. Based on actual market data, that the resale value of used Tesla’s has been declining rapidly. This being the case, Tesla has a large make-whole payment to make to the bank who represents at least 10% of the receivable. Tesla will then look to unload these used Teslas and recoup as much as possible, though it will be substantially less than the guaranteed make-whole made by Tesla.

This analysis would explain why Tesla’s payables and receivables were unusually high at the end of Q3. If this transaction had been processed before the end of Q3, Tesla’s accounts receivable would have been lower by the value of the cars being returned to Tesla under the RVG. The accounts payable would have lower by the amount Tesla owes to the bank. Tesla’s cash balance would have been lower by the amount that Tesla paid to the bank under RVG.

Recall that the Tesla spokesman said that this specific A/R was “cleared” in the first few days of Q4. Holding off on processing this transaction until after the quarter ended enabled Tesla to show a higher cash balance than it would have otherwise. It also kept the used Teslas out of Tesla’s inventory, which further enabled Tesla to manipulate the inventory write-down by taking a much lower write-down than historical write-downs. This is because the market value of the used  Teslas received is lower than the amount Tesla paid under the RVG. This would have required Tesla to write-down the value of the used Teslas, thereby increasing the inventory write-down charge, increasing cost of goods sold, lowering the gross margin and lowering the amount GAAP “net income” reported.

This also explains why Tesla moved $73 million worth of cars out of finished inventory and into the PP&E account on the balance sheet. Tesla accounts for vehicles used as service loaners as part of PP&E. I don’t have a problem with that. But moving $73 million of these vehicles allowed Tesla to avoid including those vehicles as part of its inventory write-down expense. It also allowed Tesla to move the cars taken back under the RVG transaction described above without causing an unusual change in inventory that required explanation. In other words, it’s entirely possible, if not probable, that Tesla wanted to “make room” for the used Teslas.

The bottom line – Tesla pulled out every accounting manipulation available to it in order to produce the promised positive GAAP net income, positive cash flow, extraordinarily high gross profit margins and a higher quarter-end cash balance. It was accounting deception, and in some areas probable fraud, at its finest. The Wall Street ass-kissing analysts did nothing other than cheer the results and lob easy questions at management on the conference call. Many of them are likely clueless about the degree to which Tesla manipulated reality.

It will be very interesting to see how Q4 turns out for Tesla. Based on reports from China and Europe, car sales have fallen off a cliff in October. Norway reported the first week of EV sales, which showed that Jaguar i-Pace deliveries, new to the market, were 44 vehicles vs. just 11 for the Tesla models S&X combined (the Model 3 has not been approved for sale yet in the EU). In October the i-Pace sold 441 units vs 201 for the Tesla S&X. This gives us a valuable glimpse at the effect competition will have on Tesla’s sales. Soon the Audi e-Tron will be available. It will likely smother any demand for Teslas.

Tesla had to make a $230 million convertible bond maturity payment in a couple weeks. It then has to start figuring out how to generate enough cash to make another $930 billion convertible bond maturity payment in March. On the assumption that Tesla’s sales are highly negatively affected by competition and the economy, Tesla will have a hard time raising the money needed to refinance the March convertible bond payment. Accounts payable will also become a problem, especially if Tesla is unable to raise more cash selling ZEV and GHG credits. On top of this, the tax-credit that Tesla car buyers receive from buying a Tesla EV will soon run out. This will make buying a Tesla more expensive.

The above analysis is from my Short Seller’s Journal from November 11th.  I also provided some ideas for shorting Tesla using short term and long term puts.  You can learn more about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.  Note:  one of my subscribers emailed me this morning that he just took $3500 in profits on January KB Home (KBH) puts that I recommended a few months ago.

Upper Management Exodus At Tesla Continues – Why?

Phil Rothenberg, VP of Legal at Tesla, is leaving the company.  He’s been at Tesla for nearly 8 years; previously worked at the SEC.  I assume Phil has a lot of stock and a lot of stock options, having been at the Company for eight years, including a nice chunk of options he’s leaving on the table because they will never vest.  If everything at the Company was as amazing as presented by Musk and his meat-puppet CFO in the 3rd quarter earnings report, why leave now?

Apparently Phil, trained in securities law,  would have been the designee of reviewing and monitoring Musk’s Tweets and other social media venues per the terms of the SEC settlement.   Jonathan Chang, the other VP-level lawyer at TSLA, was not a trained securities lawyer.  I have to believe that the potential legal liabilities connected to being legally responsible for overseeing the manner in which Musk operates as his own PR organization weighed heavily on Phil’s decision to flee Telsa’s corporate Sodom and Gomorrah.

Although the SEC, for whatever reason, let Musk and Tesla off the hook on a slam-dunk securities fraud case with a mere wrist-slap, the provisions of the settlement will likely create a sticky legal spider web that can be utilized to snare Musk and those around him at the Company on several counts down the road.  I am certain a desire to legally disconnect from Tesla/Musk  explains the sudden exodus of high-level executives in the past 12 months.

After Tesla’s post-earnings price spike, the torrid stock market run-up that started October 30th played a major role in keeping Tesla’s stock propped up over the last two weeks. At the beginning of the week after Tesla reported (Monday, October 29th) Tesla’s stock was about to sell-off. But the major stock market indices began to shoot up, keeping Tesla’s stock supported. Today’s action in Tesla stock reinforces this theory, as TSLA plunged 5.5% while the SPX dropped just under 2%. Tesla’s stock is going lower – a lot lower.

Tesla will eventually implode – all Ponzi schemes fail. But Musk has proven to be adept at kicking the can down the road. In the analysis I did of Tesla’s Q3 10-Q that I presented to my Short Seller’s Journal on Sunday evening, I didn’t drill down into the 10Q as thoroughly as I could have because of lack of time. But I’ve never seen this degree of manipulation in the numbers from a company the size and profile of Tesla. Bernie Madoff’s company was private so there were never publicly available numbers to scrutinize. Tesla’s operations will eventually collapse under the weight of liabilities and a collapse in auto sales related to the economy and competition.