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What to Watch For in Tesla’s Earnings on Wednesday

February 9, 2016, 4:00 PM UTC
Telsa Motors Opens New "Supercharger" Station In Fremont, California
FREMONT, CA - AUGUST 16: A row of new Tesla Superchargers are seen outside of the Tesla Factory on August 16, 2013 in Fremont, California. Tesla Motors opened a new Supercharger station with four stalls for public use at their factory in Fremont, California. The Superchargers allow owners of the Tesla Model S to charge their vehicles in 20 to 30 minutes for free. There are now 18 charging stations in the U.S. with plans to open more in the near future. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

All eyes will be on electric car maker Tesla on Wednesday afternoon as it reveals its fourth quarter and annual earnings. The report follows a crucial year for the company and, more recently, a steep drop in the company’s once sky-high stock price that has investors worried.

The long, slow stock slide is due to a combination of both short term and long term concerns. Once given the benefit of the doubt, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is now feeling the pressure to show that he can deliver on his lofty promise to eventually deliver a low cost electric car and upend the auto industry.

In the short term, a handful of analysts have downgraded Tesla’s stock over fears that the company is producing fewer new Model X SUVs than expected. They have also raised doubts that the company will be able to deliver its next car, the Model 3, on time in late 2017.

Long term, investors are worried about macro-economic factors including rock bottom oil prices that are making electric cars of all types less attractive to car shoppers. With gas prices at their lowest level in years, consumers are more likely to buy traditional gas guzzlers than they were a couple years ago.

Last week, based in part on those worries, Tesla’s (TSLA) shares dropped sharply on three out of five days, and was down over 15%. On Monday, the company’s shares tumbled another 9%. Compared to their peak price in 2014, Tesla stock is down by nearly half.

Here’s what we’ll be watching for in Tesla’s earnings on Wednesday:

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during an event to launch the new Tesla Model X Crossover SUV on Sept. 29 in Fremont, Calif. Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images
Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images


Model X: Last quarter, Tesla hoped to aggressively increase production of the Model X after delivering merely a half dozen of the cars to the very first customers at the end of September. In January, Tesla gave its first update on just how many Model X cars it had been able to ship last year: only 208.

Has Tesla been able to increase Model X production over the ensuing month since that initial number was announced on Jan. 3? Tesla says it expects to be able to make 238 Model X cars per week soon, and that production would reach a steady pace in the first quarter of 2016.

Is Tesla indeed now making, and more importantly, shipping hundreds of cars per week? We’ll see if Tesla discloses its latest Model X production and shipment numbers, or at the least hints at how it’s going.

The Model X, with its unconventional swooping doors, is an important car for Tesla. If successful, it would show that the company can deliver another hit after its well-received Model S car.

Will Tesla’s Model X be a hit?

Spending: In Tesla’s earnings call a year ago, Musk laid out the expected costs of the company’s ambitious plans including the massive battery factory in Nevada, designing the next car the Model 3, and producing batteries for the power grid. Expect Musk to forecast spending in 2016, as well as disclose Tesla’s total spending in 2015.

Last year, Musk said Tesla planned to spend a “staggering” (his own words) amount of money on capital expenditures, including an estimated $1.5 billion in 2015. Did Tesla go over that figure for last year because of likely higher than expected costs for the doors on the Model X? Tesla has said it was forced to switch suppliers at the 11th hour after its initial supplier was unable to make the doors to Musk’s standards.

Model 3: Tesla has said it plans to show off its next low cost electric Model 3 car for the first time at an event next month. Will the “reveal” be just images and designs, or the unveiling of an actual prototype? Will Tesla also open up early sales of the car at the event?

If the event is only for showing off images, expect Musk to downplay its importance during the earnings call this week. And if there’s no prototype of the Model 3 in early 2016, analysts might be wise to predict that the launch of a Model 3 might fall significantly later than its goal of late 2017.

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Cars shipment guidance: Tesla said last month that it was able to ship 50,580 cars last year, which was at the low end of a guidance that had itself been lowered twice last year. In its previous earnings, Tesla said that it was confident it would be able to make and deliver 1,600 to 1,800 cars per week of the Model S and Model X combined this year. That suggests total shipments of 83,200 to 93,600 cars for the year, or, at the high end, nearly double the shipments it made in 2015.

Now that it has had a couple months of Model X production behind it, will Tesla keep steady with that production guidance? And will it be enough to keep Tesla on track to meet its audacious goal to make 500,000 electric cars by 2020?

Gigafactory progress: On Feb. 1, the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development issued its latest progress report about the Gigafactory for the fourth quarter of 2015. It said there was a weekly average of 894 construction workers at the factory site as well as 232 operational Tesla employees and another 40 employees from Panasonic, Tesla’s partner on the project.

Tesla has now spent $310 million on the Gigafactory, while Panasonic has spent $64 million. The Economic Development Office says that the companies’ spending and employment numbers are “satisfactory” progress to abiding by the terms of the hefty incentive package the state promised Tesla. Local media reports, however, point out that those figures are smaller than the ones Tesla originally projected.

Will Tesla disclose any other progress at the factory? The company says it has already started producing grid batteries there, which can be plugged into the power grid and paired with solar panels.