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We may need to start thinking about Tesla at $3 trillion

·Editor focused on markets and the economy
·3-min read
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This article first appeared in the Morning Brief. Get the Morning Brief sent directly to your inbox every Monday to Friday by 6:30 a.m. ET. Subscribe

Thursday, October 28, 2021

With short-sellers cowed, Tesla $3T could be closer than we think

Remember that time Elon Musk briefly flirted with the idea of taking Tesla (TSLA) private, partly financed with money from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth war chest, and promptly landed in hot water with regulators?

Now that the carmaker has definitively joined the $1 trillion market capitalization club — only the fifth company to do so — the $420, “funding secured” episode may seem like ancient history (it was 2018, for those keeping track at home). 

But it’s worth the stroll down memory lane now that Tesla is firing on all cylinders, striking huge deals and cowing the short-sellers into submission (Speaking of, what are Jim Chanos and David Einhorn doing with themselves these days?)

With all the momentum behind it, could Tesla grow even bigger, to say, $3 trillion?

In a recent Substack post, economics commentator James Pethokoukis mused about the idea of Tesla becoming the first company to outflank tech giants. Pethokoukis wrote:

Everyone knows America doesn’t make anything anymore. But, you know, Tesla does. And what it makes investors apparently think is pretty valuable, both now and in the future. Indeed, they think the potential of what Tesla makes is so valuable that no company has itself become so valuable despite selling so little.

It makes sense that the Information Technology Revolution would make lots of fortunes through the manipulation of bits. But maybe now we are shifting back to wealth creations via the manipulation of atoms — enabled, of course, by IT advances, including forms of AI — rather than our attention spans via social media. Tesla is one example, and more might be on the way. For example: Moderna is a $140 billion company thanks to its success developing mRNA vaccines to counter the coronavirus. One wonders about the economic potential of new genetic editing techniques…

Biology, energy, space. The U.S. economy is about a lot more than tech firms serving us ads while we search online or while we bicker on social media platforms. Will it all add up to the start of a New Roaring Twenties or Roaring Twenty-First Century?

Tesla $3T might be a reach, even with all the company has going for it. But the question is pertinent given that the electric vehicle (EV) space as a whole is white hot, and competitors are lining up to snatch Tesla's crown. On Wednesday, General Motors (GM) chief Mary Barra came in from the top rope with a bold prediction made to CNBC, saying the auto giant could "absolutely" top Tesla's EV sales within the next four years.

Whether or not GM is making empty boasts, Tesla’s bull case is growing more aggressive by the day. CFO Zachary Kirkhorn noted that in Q3, the company’s once-struggling deliveries were 20% higher quarter-over-quarter, and 70% higher than the comparable year-ago.

That makes analysts like those at Morgan Stanley more than eager to hike their price targets, and see a clear path to fresh record highs on the stock. The bank raised its target to $1,200 earlier this week, even as potential troubles loom from supply chain and geopolitics.

Still, Morgan Stanley made a clear case for why Tesla’s more likely to see upside than down. “The Tesla you see today is the product of pre-COVID, sub $100 billion Tesla,” analysts wrote.

“The Tesla you’ll likely see over the next 12 to 18 months would demonstrate the capabilities of the Trillion dollar Tesla: emphasizing step-changes in manufacturing, cost reduction... expansion in capacity, model lineup and services offerings,” the bank said, adding that the company “has been the world’s most valuable carmaker for some time.”

And given a favorable environment for climate-friendly technology, there’s “a broad opportunity set for investors in green tech, both from existing and emerging technologies,” Morgan Stanley said.

$3 trillion, here we come? Never say never.

By Javier E. David, editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him at @Teflongeek

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