Elon Musk tried to distract the market with plans for a shiny new Tesla robot. It backfired horribly

January 28, 2022, 1:31 PM UTC

Like one of his Starlink satellites falling toward Earth, shares in Elon Musk’s Tesla plummeted from their stratospheric heights on Thursday after hopes for imminent product fireworks fizzled.

The world’s richest human revealed no launches were planned this year due to delays, and he killed off hopes that the low-cost EV announced over a year ago was even under development—before pivoting abruptly to Tesla’s brand new endeavors in the field of robotics.

Despite record annual earnings and a realistic path for 50%-plus volume growth this year, Tesla’s nearly trillion-dollar market cap lost more than a tenth of its value in the span of just one day. Even those arguing the stock deserves a forward earnings multiple in the triple digits slammed Musk’s performance during the subsequent investor call.

Gary Black, managing partner of the Future Fund, said in an interview with Tesla influencer Dave Lee that any normal money manager would have “thrown something at the screen” after Musk diverted attention away from his EVs.

“That’s not what a [portfolio manager] at Fidelity wants to hear about,” said Black, who has 12% of his assets tied up in Tesla. “He wants to hear about dominating the EV space.” 

Expectations going into Musk’s update ran high, with the CEO telling investors for weeks he would provide fresh guidance on key upcoming models like the Cybertruck, after worrying signs piled up that the model would be delayed. 

Instead of a clear, structured presentation that went through each model in the pipeline, broadly setting out its development status and providing rough guidance on their respective production starts, Musk muddied the waters by claiming Tesla’s priorities lie elsewhere.

His decision to devote so much of his opening statement to his plans for an Optimus humanoid robot, first revealed only in August, over discussing planned vehicle lines for which he has already received deposits, backfired. 

“There’s no distinctive competence, and I don’t think the average portfolio manager could put together a model that would say, ‘Here’s how I would value that business,’” Black said. “Bottom line is EV sales is what drives Tesla value, and they have to address that on the conference calls.” 

It’s not unusual for Tesla shares to dip after quarterly results, as the stock rallies in anticipation of an earnings beat and then sells on the news. 

The sheer scale of the bloodbath, however, created a schism in the Tesla community between realists, angry over the lack of tangible proof that management is delivering on its promises, and dreamers already lured in by The Next Big Thing. 

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas reiterated his bull case and $1,300 price target but worried that the delay to the Cybertruck “leaves the market open for competitors to get some daylight.”

Tesla’s struggles with the economics of its stainless steel pickup truck, zero progress on the $25,000 entry-level EV, and its continued claims that full self-driving (FSD) is right around the corner, prompted Bernstein Research to maintain its Underperform rating and $300 target.

“We believe that 1) FSD has, and will likely continue to take longer to deliver than Tesla believes, due to technical and legal reasons; and 2) that FSD pricing will largely be competed [away] over time, as nearly every other automotive technology and feature has been historically,” it wrote in a research note after the results. 

Meanwhile social media jumped at the chance to make light of Musk coming empty-handed to the call, and his penchant for shifting the goalpost when it comes to the future business strategy of the company.

Following Thursday’s rout, Musk sought comfort by taking to Twitter to respond to his diehard fans, lash out at enemies, and foment opposition against government COVID restrictions.

After the White House praised the EV efforts of his Detroit rivals like General Motors while snubbing Tesla, Musk seethed that President Joe Biden was “treating the American people like fools,” before then turning his attention to the insurance commissioner of California. Tesla’s CEO also called for the head of Ricardo Lara for blocking his plans to monetize vehicle data from consenting drivers. 

Later he warned “freedom is being stripped away one piece at a time,” tweeting out a Lord of the Rings meme suggesting the Biden administration had been seduced by its emergency pandemic powers. 

“If you scare people enough they will demand removal of freedom. This is the path to tyranny,” Musk finally wrote.

Maybe his spirits will lift on Friday.

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