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Tesla’s ‘day of reckoning’ is near as its plunging stock increases financing risk

  • Morgan Stanley on Wednesday warned Tesla shareholders the stock's fall could be a "self-fulfilling" prophecy for further declines.
  • Tesla "faces liquidity pressures due to its large negative free cash flow and the pending maturities of convertible bonds," a Moody's release said Tuesday.
  • Some investors are betting against Tesla, citing its financial issues and cash burn woes.
Elon Musk
Ron Sachs | Pool via Bloomberg | Getty Images
Elon Musk

Tesla's big stock drop this month will have negative implications for its ability to raise critically-needed funds, according to Wall Street analysts.

The company's shares declined 22 percent in March on concerns over a fatal car crash in California last week and worries over its Model 3 production rate. Tesla's 5.3 percent bond, issued last August and maturing in 2025, also fell 4 percent to 87.25 cents Wednesday with a yield of 7.6 percent, according to FactSet. The bond's price declined 8 percent this month.

Morgan Stanley on Wednesday warned Tesla shareholders the stock's fall could be a "self-fulfilling" prophecy for further declines.

"A lower share price begets a lower share price … For a company widely expected to continue to fund its strategy through external capital raises, a fall in the share price can take on a self-fulfilling nature that further exacerbates the volatility of the share price," analyst Adam Jonas wrote.

Jonas said the company needs to accelerate its rate of Model 3 production if it wants to raise funds at an attractive price for the company.

"The precise timing of when Tesla can achieve a 2,500/week and then a 5,000/week production run-rate for its mass market sedan can make the difference between whether Tesla is potentially raising capital from a position of weakness at a price near our $175 bear case or whether it can access capital from a position of strength with a stock price near our $561 bull case," he wrote.

Another financial firm is already pessimistic over Telsa's Model 3 manufacturing capability.

Moody's downgraded Tesla's credit ratings after the close Tuesday and changed the outlook to negative from stable, citing the "significant shortfall" in the Model 3 production rate and its tight financial situation.

Tesla had $3.4 billion in cash or cash equivalents at year end 2017. The company lost nearly $2 billion last year and burned about $3.4 billion in cash after capital investments.

Given the company's cash burn rate and how it has $230 million of debt due in Nov. 2018 and another $920 million in Mar. 2019, Moody's believes the company has to raise new capital soon.

Tesla "faces liquidity pressures due to its large negative free cash flow and the pending maturities of convertible bonds," the Moody's release said Tuesday. "The negative outlook reflects the likelihood that Tesla will have to undertake a large, near-term capital raise in order to refund maturing obligations and avoid a liquidity short-fall."

Some investors are betting against Tesla, citing its financial liquidity issues and cash burn woes.

"The losses and heavy capital spending are expected to continue this year. Over the next twelve months Tesla also has $1.2 billion in convertible bonds coming due," Fred Hickey, editor of High Tech Strategist, wrote in an email Wednesday. "In other words, Tesla has an enormous need for more cash and yet some are beginning to lose confidence in the company as witnessed by the recent Moody's debt downgrade and sharp selloff in Tesla bonds. It looks like a day of reckoning may be ahead."

Hickey owns Tesla put options.

One hedge fund manager believes Tesla's business model is permanently broken.

"Tesla represents a financially non-viable business. It has an upside-down balance sheet. The multi-billion cash burn is massive with no end in sight," Accipiter Capital's Gabe Hoffman wrote in an email Wednesday. "The financial need for Tesla to issue massive amounts of new equity has been glaringly obvious for quite some time."

Hoffman cited the recent departures of Tesla executives such as its chief accounting officer in early March.

"This is an incredibly ominous sign, which I believe confirms my thesis," he wrote. "Tesla is our fund's largest short position. We have not covered a single share on this decline."

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.