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Tesla Inc Stock Is An Unwholesome, Confusing “Neutral”

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Tesla Inc(NASDAQ: TSLA) has its share of fans on Wall Street, but few are as confused as Itay Michaeli of Citigroup. The analyst, who initiated coverage on the EV firm this morning, is bullish, but not in a straightforward way. In the report Michaeli said that the company was full of potential, but advised clients not to buy Tesla stock just yet.

The Citigroup report puts a Neutral rating on Tesla stock. It sums up a lot of what Wall Street seems to be feeling about Tesla right now. As the firm heads toward the actual launch of the Model 3, investors see lots of risks and little unexpected reward. If the Model 3 is massively successful, that’s likely to already be priced in.

Tesla needs to prove to its followers that it can grow massively while keeping margins high beyond the Model 3 ramp. Michaeli isn’t convinced that it has what it takes.

Tesla stock is a hot Neutral

The report put a price target of $357 on Tesla stock despite calling on clients not to buy shares. On Thursday morning, stock in the EV maker is set to open at around $325. That makes the Citi target a 10 percent jump over current prices.

On top of the “don’t buy but it’s going up” rating, Michaeli makes a few other confused judgments about Tesla.

Tesla Inc nasdaq:tsla - Elon Musk
Photo: Wikipedia/Creative Commons

He says that the firm is likely to lose more than $7 per share for the full year 2017, while saying that the “The upside case for the winners is large enough.” In his view “one cannot deny Tesla’s initial product success, brand appeal, speed of innovation and tech/software leadership.”

Despite trusting in the fundamentals, and believing that Tesla Inc (NASDAQ: TSLA) stock will go up, the analyst reckons it’s better to wait and see how Model 3 execution goes before buying in.

This all lines up to a strange conclusion. Citigroup is a hot Neutral. This is an incredibly bullish report, but the headline rating really doesn’t get that across.

The EV maker is unique, and it has all of the opportunity in the world to grow. The issue, however, is the risk reward spectrum. Michaeli, along with a lot of other traders, is waiting for a more attractive entry point.

Here are the Tesla Inc risks

The risks facing Tesla Inc (NASDAQ: TSLA) are too many to count. That said, there are some fundamental hurdles that will have to be leaped over in the coming months in order to set the firm on the right path.

The first of these is free cash flow. Wall Street has been willing to accept every single Tesla excuse on its finances. The firm, says Musk, obviously can be profitable but it’s spending money to fuel growth.

The second is technology. There really aren’t any good models that show how and why technology is produced. Elon Musk is planning for his firm to be the creator of not one or two but multiple technology revolutions.

Self-driving cars, hugely improved batteries, solar roofing and a whole lot more are what Wall Street is betting will drive Tesla stock to $400 and beyond.

These are big risks that the firm faces long before it has to put a car on the road. Elon Musk is ahead of the competition. Citigroup’s team even believes that it’s going to stay that way. It’s just not attractive enough to be worth buying in, at least according to “Neutral” Itay Michaeli.

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Paul Shea

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