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How Tesla can become worth more than Apple, according to Morgan Stanley

  • Morgan Stanley raising bear case valuation.
  • Data and content could drive Tesla higher.

Elon Musk has said Tesla can be worth more than Apple, and Morgan Stanley's Adam Jonas says he can see only one business that can make that happen.

Based on conversations with investors, Jonas said in a research note sent Monday that he does not think a successful Model 3, or subsequent similar models, will add enough to push Tesla's valuation to the heights Apple has reached. Nor, he says will a successful electric semitruck, solar roof or energy storage business.

"In our view," Jonas said in his note, "there's only one market big enough to propel the stock's value to the levels of Elon Musk's aspirations: that of miles, data and content."

Tesla cars can send and receive data from the company via Wi-Fi or cellular networks. This makes it possible for Tesla to perform many maintenance tasks and upgrades via software updates, but it also allows the company to collect information on the car, for everything from diagnosing service issues to improving the car's Autopilot driver assist system. This data, along with the content and services Tesla could offer customers, may be the company's biggest driver of value going forward.

Jonas kept his $305 price target on the stock, but upgraded his bear case valuation from $50 to $175. At the very least, he wrote, Tesla's customer data represents a strategic value to firms interested in entering transportation. Jonas' bull case valuation for Tesla is $511.

"Any number of firms (and funds/consortiums) across the tech stack have been making big moves to get closer to the 10 trillion miles traveled annually by the global car population," Jonas said. His bear case valuation is based, conservatively, on what Intel is paying to acquire Mobileye, a company that makes autonomous vehicle technology.

Shares of Tesla were up more than 1 percent Monday, at around $361.

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