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Tesla Is Partying Like It's 1999

Stocks in this article: TSLA GM F MS

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Cue up your Prince CD, because Tesla (TSLA) is officially partying like it's 1999. If you invested during the dot-com days, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Tesla is now worth more than half of either General Motors (GM) or Ford (F). At the same time, it's expected to sell about the same number of cars in 2014 that either GM or Ford will sell by next Monday.

The discrepancy could easily be answered if Tesla were more profitable, or even expected to be more profitable next year, or the one after that, or maybe even the one after that. Unfortunately, there are no reasonable estimates for Tesla to generate anywhere near the same level of profit as the other two automakers anytime soon.

Even though GM and Ford are profitable and have a much larger market share than Tesla, Morgan Stanley (MS) this week raised its price target on Tesla from $153 to $320, in part based on 2020 possible results. At $320, Tesla's market cap is in the neighborhood of $45 billion diluted. Ford is worth less than $60 billion.

The public bought into Morgan Stanley's bullish thesis, and shares rocketed higher. The following day, Tesla announced a convertible bond offering through investment banks Goldman Sachs (GS), Deutsche Bank (DB), and -- surprise surprise -- Morgan Stanley. It's certainly plausible the timing was pure coincidence. It's up to you to decide whether it wasn't.

I can't help but be reminded of the go-go days during the dot-com boom and bust. In 1999, profits and even expectations of future profits often didn't matter. However, believing Tesla is a great company with strong prospects, I reviewed a few of the stocks I traded during the market's exuberance that were as exciting and viable as Tesla.

The highest price paid for Yahoo! (YHOO) was $125.03 in the beginning of 2000. Twelve months later it traded for around $12, a 90% decline. But that price wasn't a bargain, though, because a few months later an investor could pick up shares for less than $5 almost until the Times Square ball fell at the start of 2003.

In the final trading days of 1999, (AMZN) peaked near $113. Thirteen months later you could add shares to your portfolio for less than $10. You may have wished you hadn't, though, because you would have been demoralized as you watched it fall to less than $6. Nine years passed before Amazon surpassed its dot-com peak.

Cisco's (CSCO) all-time high was more than $80 in the beginning of 2000. About a year later it was trading for $13. Obviously, Cisco is a technology leader and great innovator.

Many companies never made it through to the other side., with its famous sock puppet, comes to mind. It's a fair assessment to say Yahoo! and Amazon were leaders and the best of the best at that time. Both remain important Internet companies, especially Amazon, but their stock prices still can vary wildly.

Investors are ultimately responsible for their own due diligence and decisions, but part of that is being able to trust the information used is reasonable and an honest assessment. Investment banks (financial firms that help public companies raise capital), and company/stock research providers are often under the same corporate umbrella.

As you might imagine, a Wall Street investment bank that offers research competing to sell bonds and or stock for a public company has a colossal incentive to produce research that at a minimum, paints a company's prospects in the most favorable light possible.

Burying or outright omitting key negative facts was common at one time. During the dot-com days, many on Wall Street played fast and loose with the rules. Questionable research was especially prevalent for new "world-changing" Internet and technology companies.

Renewed calls for a more effective Chinese wall separating investment banking and research departments were swiftly answered by Washington, in part with Sarbanes-Oxley. Still, a wise investor should always take Wall Street research with a grain of salt.

At the time of publication, Weinstein had no positions in securities mentioned.

Follow @RobertWeinstein

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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