August 3, 2017 / 12:52 PM / 16 days ago

Tesla surges as Wall Street bets on Model 3

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) jumped over 6 percent on Thursday as its quarterly report fueled bets that its new Model 3 sedan would propel the luxury electric carmaker into the mainstream.

Chief Executive Elon Musk is counting on the Model 3, Tesla's least pricey car, to make the company profitable and establish it as the leading electric carmaker ahead of BMW, General Motors and other long-established players.

Tesla's stock is up 63 percent in 2017, underscoring Wall Street's confidence in Musk.

The Palo Alto, California company late on Wednesday reported quarterly results that beat average analyst estimates, and said it received more than 1,800 reservations per day for the Model 3 since its launch last week.

Tesla had $3 billion in cash on hand at the end of the June quarter, reassuring investors who were worried after Musk warned on Friday that the automaker would face six months of "manufacturing hell" in ramping up production of the Model 3.

Tesla's cash burn, expected to top $2 billion this year, has prompted short-sellers like Greenlight Capital's David Einhorn to bet against the company [L1N1KN1FE], and some analysts expect the carmaker to seek extra funding this year.

Musk said investors should have "zero concern" Tesla would fail to reach its production target of 10,000 vehicles each week by the end of 2018.

Skeptics believe Tesla's aggressive production targets are unrealistic and the company's electric cars will be overtaken by larger automakers.

Yet at least two brokerages raised their price targets following Tesla's report. RBC Capital Markets upped its target price by $31 to $345, pushing it well ahead of the median target of $322, according to Thomson Reuters data.

"While we don't have meaningful reason to doubt that Tesla can eventually achieve its targets, doing so in a timely manner without some growing pains could prove challenging," RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak wrote in a research note.

FILE PHOTO: Tesla Model 3 cars are seen as Tesla holds an event at the factory handing over its first 30 Model 3 vehicles to employee buyers at the company’s Fremont facility in California, U.S. July 28, 2017. Tesla/Handout viaFile Photo

Portfolio managers who hold shares of Tesla say they saw the most recent quarter as further evidence Musk will deliver on his promise of building a product that consumers want, even if he sometimes misses deadlines.

"Investors trust Musk because he's made it work. It's not that every one of his predictions have come true on schedule, but they have all come true," said Kevin Landis, a portfolio manager at Firsthand Funds (ALTEX.O) who holds shares of the company.

CAN TESLA GO FAST ENOUGH?

The $35,000 base-price Model 3 is Tesla's least expensive car. It is designed and priced to compete with high-volume luxury sedans like the Audi A4, BMW 3-series or Mercedes C-Class. Those typically sell for between $40,000 and $50,000, or about half the price of Tesla's previously launched cars, the Model S or Model X.

David Kudla, chief investment strategist at Mainstay Capital Management, who shorted Tesla in the past but does not have a current position on its shares, said he expected Musk to go back to capital markets before year end to raise extra funding.

Musk said on an earnings call with analysts Wednesday that while Tesla was not considering an equity raise, "we are thinking about debt" issuance.

The sooner the company does that, the better shape it will be in, Kudla added, saying he expected more delays and slow-downs as the company ramps up Model 3 output.

“There are so many things that can go wrong,” he added.

Yet Scott Goginsky, a portfolio manager at the Biondo Growth (BIONX.O) fund, said Tesla's rich valuation should allow the company to raise additional capital if necessary without overly-diluting its share price.

He said he had been trimming his holding in the company not over concern with its fundamentals, but to prevent it from becoming too large a position in his portfolio.

"People want the car. They will definitely sell it. It's just a matter of whether they can make it fast enough," he said.

Reporting by Noel Randewich in San Francisco and Sweta Singh in Bengaluru, additional reporting by David Randall; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Andrew Hay

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