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Tesla Stock Active As China Sales Hold Steady In February, Nickel Prices Surge

Tesla's February China sales were down 5.6% from the previous month, but held at impressive levels when compared to last year as the Shanghai plant continues to meet the bulk of Europe's rising demand.

Updated at 9:47 am EST

Tesla  (TSLA) - Get Free Report shares were active Tuesday after official data showed solid gains for the carmaker's February sales in China, the world's largest EV market.

Shares pared earlier gains, however, over concerns linked to an overnight surge in nickel prices, which briefly topped $100,000 per ton on the London Metals Exchange before officials cancelled trading. Nickel is a crucial component in EV battery making and much of the global supply comes from miners in Russia. 

The China Passenger Car Association (CPCA) said Tuesday that Tesla sold 56,515 domestically-made vehicles last month, including 33,315 for export from its most important market. The headline tally was more than double the pace of sales recorded last year, but down around 5.6% from January levels.

Overall passenger car sales were up 4.7% to 1.27 million units, the CPAC said, with Tesla rival Nio  (NIO) - Get Free Report delivering 6,131 vehicles -- a 10% year-on-year increase -- and Xpeng delivering 6,225 vehicles.

Tesla cautioned earlier this year that supply-chain disruptions have held back production capacity and will impact the pace of near-term output, a warning that took some of the gloss from a record fourth quarter, which saw revenues rise 65% from last year to an-all time high of $17.72 billion. 

China revenues over the final three months of the year were up 84.5% to $2.62 billion, taking the full-year total to around $13.84 billion.

"The pace of growth in 2022 will, again, be determined by supply chain and logistics, which is quite difficult for us to forecast," CFO Zach Kirkhorn told investors on a conference call in late January. "Despite these constraints, it's important to begin the ramp of Austin and Berlin to ensure that we are prepared once limitations ease, enabling us to increase total output more quickly in the future."

That assessment was given a boost last week, however, after environmental officials and the German state of Brandenburg gave the carmaker's key $5.5 billion Berlin gigafactory conditional approval to begin operations in the coming months.

At present, much of Tesla's European demand is being met by exports from China and the ramp-up of production at its Shanghai gigafactory, which began operations in 2019.

Tesla shares were marked 0.3% higher in early Tuesday trading to change hands at $807.55 each, a move that would still leave the stock with a year-to-date decline of around 33.8%.