Tesla earnings watch is 'all about profitability'

  • The investor debate over Tesla is shifting away from production and toward profitability, says Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi.
  • The company has said it expects to make profits and generate cash flow in the second half of 2018.

The key question on investors' minds when Tesla reports second quarter earnings after the market closes Wednesday is when it will start to turn a profit.

Now that the company has reached key production milestones on its Model 3 mid-size electric sedan, investors are worrying less about Tesla's ability to ramp up production and thinking more about how much money it can make on its cars, Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi said on CNBC Halftime Report on Wednesday.

"The debate now on Tesla is all about profitability," he said.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he is confident Tesla will make profits and generate cash flow in the third quarter, but many on Wall Street are skeptical.

Tesla has burned through billions of dollars in cash over the last few quarters, and will likely need to raise a lot more money in the not-too-distant future to fund ambitious plans, such as the construction of a new factory in China and the development of a Model Y crossover SUV.

It has also departed from its original plan of selling the Model 3 at a starting price of $35,000 for the mass market, moving in the opposite direction on Model 3 pricing. Its first Model 3 configurations started at $44,000. A newer "Performance" version, when it was introduced, started at a price of $78,000. Tesla has since lowered that to $64,000.

Musk justified the choice in a May 20 Tweet by saying shipping the base Model 3 at $35,000 would "cause Tesla to lose money & die."

"I think tonight is is all about can Tesla management communicate and convince investors that they can responsibly get to net income and cash flow, neutral or positive in the second half and how they get there," Sacconaghi said."That to me is the debate."