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An Apple Analyst’s View of Tesla

I’m fascinated to see that Toni Sacconaghi, the longtime computer hardware analyst for Bernstein Research, is now covering Tesla. For years, Sacconaghi has been one of the premier research analysts on companies like Hewlett-Packard (when it was a computing and printing giant), Dell (when it was a public company), and Apple.

Now he apparently follows cars. Er, make that one car company, the one that most closely resembles a computer company and in fact is located in Silicon Valley.

Sacconaghi recently issued one of his signature reports, analyzing the prospects for Tesla to hit the 25% gross margins on its new Model 3 sedan it has promised. Sacconaghi is methodical, analytical, and unemotional—about what you’d want from someone paid to help investors understand if a stock is a buy or sell. To cut to the chase, he thinks it’s unlikely Tesla will achieve its targets due to high battery costs, high capital expenditures, and the relatively lower-end versions of the car he thinks Tesla will introduce first. He deems the “near-term risk-reward” on Tesla’s $321 stock “neutral-to-modestly negative.” Moreover, he places a $250 price target on Tesla’s shares, meaning he doesn’t recommend buying them.

The veteran analyst sees plenty of promise at Tesla. For one thing, management is specifically incentivized to exceed the gross margin target. He also reckons that if Tesla (TSLA) could prove him wrong the company might enjoy the type of leverage Apple (AAPL) now has, seeing as Apple was a similar size and profile to Tesla in 2004, before its stratospheric run.

Speaking of Apple, its valuation crossed the $800 billion mark Tuesday. Five years ago, when I published a book about Apple, it was popular to suggest the company’s best days were behind it. Many still think that. Investors apparently haven’t gotten that memo.

Adam Lashinsky