On the cusp of the launch of Tesla Inc.'s (TSLA) Model 3, Elon Musk can soon prove wrong the naysayers who doubt his ability to ship 500,000 of the mass model car next year.
Musk's cult of personality has attracted investors who seem to believe they will make their fortune betting with him. However, there is another group that believes with equal or greater conviction that they will get rich by betting against the Tesla founder.
"While it seems there is the 'cult of Tesla' on the long side with its stock price soaring on every whiff of good news, there apparently is also a 'cult of Tesla shorts' which refuses to give up on their thesis and has continued to increase their short exposure in the face of a supercharged price rally," said S3 Partners, LLC Head of Research Ihor Dusaniwsky. "I look at the short side of the market, and Tesla, being the largest U.S. short has been a topic of mine for several years."
Musk is the Steve Jobs of everything from electric cars and solar power (Tesla), to exploring space (SpaceX) and constructing network of tunnels to eradicate "the problem of soul-destroying traffic" (Boring Co.). He is a celebrity-executive who dates movie stars and conveys an entrepreneurial vision and ambition that might seem naively idealistic if he weren't a self-made billionaire. Alone among Trump's tech cadre, Musk abandoned the White House technology council when the President pulled out of the Paris climate agreement.
If Musk defies the conventions of the automotive and aerospace industries and politics, why should Tesla stock be limited by such quotidian concerns as cash burn and production targets?
Shares of Tesla have gained more than 53% so far this year to $327.78. Its stock traded own 0.6% to $325.75 on Monday morning.
The rally has its skeptics. When Tesla missed second-quarter shipment projections, Goldman Sachs & Co. analyst David Tamberrino lowered his target from $190 per share to $180 on July 5, suggesting in a report that even with the launch of the Model 3, Tesla is likely to miss its production targets. He sees Tesla's cash burn intensifying this year, with the company raising more capital next year.
"Short sellers were so convinced that Tesla stock would fall dramatically and although they were slightly profitable with Tesla's stock price weakening after a first quarter run-up, they were willing to pay stock borrowing fees over 25% in parts of the second half of 2016 which ate up all of their profits and actually caused them to lose money on a net of financing basis," S3 Partners' Dusaniwsky wrote.
Musk has taunted the shorts on Twitter.
Could be worse https://t.co/CtnkJysquj— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 8, 2017
The Model 3 could help determine which cult of Tesla, if either, wins out.
"I think it may be a great inflection point -- if pre-orders increase and Musk can actually follow through on his optimistic production predictions, Tesla stock should rally," Dusaniwsky wrote. "[S]o far the shorts have been 'short squeeze resistant' but a sizable price rally might push their tolerance to a tipping point and we might finally see a wave of short covering that would spike Tesla's price like a turbocharger boosts a gas powered car."
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