Tesla, after cutting prices and closing stores, is no Apple, Barclays warns

Key Points
  • Barclays cuts its price target on shares of Tesla by 9 percent.
  • Tesla's sooner-than-expected rollout of a lower-cost Model 3 and its decision to shutter most of its showrooms undercuts the bull case, Barclays says.
  • The company is unlikely to offset lower profit margins with increased sales volumes and cost savings, Barclays warns.
Tesla Model 3
Source: Tesla

Barclays on Tuesday cut its price target on Tesla shares, saying recent strategic decisions by the company undercut the firm's bull case, which had positioned the electric vehicle and energy products manufacturer as the Apple of the car world.

The investment bank sees the stock price falling to $192 per share, down 9 percent from its prior target at $210. At that level, Barclays now expects shares of Tesla to tumble nearly a third from their closing price of $285.36 on Monday.

The average price target on Tesla shares is $339.21, according to FactSet. Barclays' view makes it one of the most bearish firms on Wall Street.

The catalyst for the reduction is the sooner-than-expected rollout of Tesla's long-awaited $35,000 Model 3 and the decision to shutter most of its dealerships.

"Much of the bull narrative has rested on Tesla being the next Apple, selling high-volume EVs at premium price point and at high gross margins, in part aided by a unique branded retail presence — a narrative we see as undermined by the recent price cuts and closing of most of the stores," Barclays auto analysts Brian Johnson and Steven Hempel said in a research note.

The analysts believe the company is unlikely to offset lower profit margins with increased sales volumes and cost savings. They say the bull case is now shifting to Tesla becoming the next Amazon: undercutting comparable luxury sedans and gaining an advantage over rivals by selling online rather than at brick-and-mortar locations.

But Barclays is not buying it: "Contrary to the bull arguments, we believe the sooner than expected announcement of the $35K model 3, rather than reflecting dramatic progress on manufacturing and distribution costs, likely reflects the need to replenish cash after the convert repayment, perhaps exacerbated by the weak first two months of US sales."

Barclays says Tesla must now sell a lot more electric vehicles to offset lower gross margins, while the automaker's goal to market a disruptive low-cost "car for the masses" like Ford's Model T "calls into question long-term margin and multiple assumptions in the bull thesis."

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