Tesla’s shares soar 20% on stronger-than-expected deliveries amid coronavirus outbreak

April 2, 2020, 9:46 PM UTC

Tesla delivered 88,400 vehicles in its latest quarter, soundly beating Wall Street’s muted expectations amid the coronavirus outbreak, and sending its shares up 20% in after-hours trading.

For the first quarter of this year, which ended March 31, analysts had predicted that Tesla would deliver just over 80,600 cars.

Despite the stronger-than-expected number, Tesla is well off-pace for meeting its prediction in January that it would deliver 500,000 cars in 2020. But that projection was made before the full scope of the global coronavirus pandemic and its accompanying economic shock.

In late February, coronavirus worries began hammering Tesla’s stock after it had more than tripled in value in less than three months, to a peak of $917.40 on Feb. 19. In after-hours trading on Thursday, it rose $89.52 to $543.99 after falling nearly 6% in regular trading to $454.47. 

The financial results behind Tesla’s latest quarterly delivery numbers aren’t expected to be disclosed until the last week of April. They too won’t fully reflect the impact the company is facing today from the ongoing coronavirus crisis or what’s ahead in the coming months.

By the time the latest quarter ended, the coronavirus pandemic had only started to gain full force outside China. Since then, it has continued to spread throughout the U.S. and Europe, which make up 80% of Tesla’s sales, while economic activity in China has rebounded somewhat but remains depressed compared with its status before the outbreak.

The first signs of coronavirus-related trouble for Tesla came in late January, when the company said it would temporarily shutter its new car factory in Shanghai to comply with government lockdown orders there. The Shanghai factory has since reopened, and Tesla said today that the factory “continued to achieve record levels of production, despite significant setbacks.”

In the U.S., Tesla has conducted massive layoffs and shuttered its auto factory in Fremont, Calif., on March 23.

Amid the factory shutdowns, Tesla said it had produced nearly 102,700 vehicles in the first quarter. The total exceeded the number of deliveries, a rarity for Tesla that could suggest declining demand because of the coronavirus.

The negative impact of the coronavirus on Tesla’s second-quarter sales and beyond could be huge. Analyst Toni Sacconaghi of AllianceBernstein, in an April 1 note to investors, drew comparisons to the Great Recession, during which auto sales declined 20% from 2007 to 2009, with a full recovery taking more than a decade. AllianceBernstein expects the lockdown of major parts of the U.S. economy to last until mid-June.

That’s particularly worrisome for Tesla, which has yet to achieve a full year of profitability, even amid the historic economic expansion that the coronavirus brought to an end. However, the company is better positioned than some to weather a serious economic downturn, primarily because of its $8.6 billion in cash.

Some analyst models had projected that Tesla had enough cash to survive more than a year without further investment. But with projections about the economic impact of coronavirus worsening, those estimates may soon be revised downward, too.

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