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Tesla shares drop as Wall Street grows frustrated with production forecasts

  • Several Tesla analysts are concerned about production guidance changes and cash burn.
  • Model 3 production delays could affect the release of other Tesla products, analysts say.

Tesla shares dropped more than 5 percent Thursday as Wall Street questioned how much leeway it should continue to give the automaker's outspoken founder, Elon Musk.

Tesla reported a wider-than-expected loss Wednesday evening and said the production of its mass market Model 3 sedan won't meet previous forecasts for another three months. That sparked a sell-off in the shares in after hours trading that continued into Thursday morning as Wall Street analysts voiced their disappointment with Musk's comments on a conference call to discuss the numbers.

Tesla now expects to reach a Model 3 production rate of 5,000 cars a week late in the first quarter of 2018. Previously, the electric car maker said it expected to reach that rate by the end of 2017.

"We left the call frustrated with the lack of transparency from Tesla management," Cowen's Jeffrey Osborne wrote in a note to investors.

More than one analyst remarked about the company's lack of commitment to a date when it would reach production of 10,000 Model 3 units per week, which it has previously put at some point in 2018.

"Perhaps more disconcerting was the electing to not guide to the time when it would reach 10K per week (previously said to be sometime during 2018)," said JPMorgan analyst Ryan Brinkman. "The combination of these two guidance changes is likely to result in a significant reduction in production expectations."

JPMorgan slashed its projection for Model 3 production in the fourth quarter to 10,000 from 15,000.

Analysts are focused on Model 3 production because Tesla has said it plans to use cash from that business to fund new projects, said Goldman Sachs analyst David Tamberrino. Tesla plans to reveal a semitractor-trailer on Nov.16, a crossover called the Model Y at some point in the next few years, a pickup truck and the second generation Tesla Roadster.

"We see the timeline for these products as likely pushed out," Tamberrino said.

There are some bright spots, said Deutsche Bank analyst Rod Lache.

"On the positive side, we can see scenarios in which TSLA is able to overcome temporary production challenges, manage distribution/service challenges, execute on growth, achieve aggressive margin targets, and build a cash generative/self-sustaining growth engine (if Tesla's production and margin targets are achieved, the company could reach FCF
breakeven by late-2018)," Lache said in a note. "However, given the company's current cash burn and potential for delays in achieving production targets, we believe that the margin for error is once again becoming uncomfortably thin."

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