September 14, 2018 / 4:29 AM / 2 months ago

Breakingviews - Nio zooms from carmaker to tech star

Chinese electric vehicle start-up NIO Inc. vehicle is parked in front of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to celebrate the company’s initial public offering (IPO) in New York, U.S., September 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

HONG KONG (Reuters Breakingviews) - Electric-car maker Nio shifted quickly into a new gear. On the second day of trading after its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, its shares zoomed up 76 percent. That transforms China’s answer to Teslafrom a carmaker into a tech star.

Some deserved scepticism forced Nio to sell its stock at the low end of the indicated price range. For a fleeting moment, its valuation just about suited the sector in which it operates. Applying rival Geely’s net profit margin of nearly 12 percent and its seven times multiple of forecast earnings implied a bottom line of just over $1 billion for Nio. That would conceivably be within reach if it could run its manufacturing partner’s factory at full capacity and then sell every single one of the 120,000 vehicles.

With a racier valuation of $13 billion, much higher expectations kick in. Nio would have to churn out more than twice as many vehicles as current capacity allows, and find buyers for all of them, too. As of August, Nio had delivered just about 1,600 cars, generating $7 million in revenue at a big loss.

Chinese tech hype may explain the enthusiasm. Nio touted connected cars serviced by a dedicated app and partnerships with Tencent and JD.com for music streaming and e-commerce. These kinds of services resonate with investors. Market debutants this year from the People’s Republic on the NYSE and Nasdaq, excluding Nio, have on average seen their shares climb 64 percent, according to Dealogic. For all new listings in the Big Apple, the rise is a more muted 28 percent.

Tesla, too, trades at over 100 times estimated earnings for 2019. Nio may have belatedly captured some of that exuberance. It is nevertheless an unexpected, and implausible, U-turn.

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