Tesla on Wednesday reported its first quarterly profit in two years and its biggest ever. But for the electric-car maker and its unpredictable chief, the question is whether it can keep making money.
The company’s third-quarter earnings were helped by cost-cutting, spending less on future models, delaying payments to suppliers and, most important, rushing to sell as many cars as possible. It may not be able to do all those things quarter after quarter.
The company declared it a “historic quarter” and its chief executive, Elon Musk, promised that future would be brighter still, telling analysts on a conference call he expected Tesla to be profitable in the fourth quarter and in “all quarters going forward.” He was saying in effect that his company was no longer in start-up mode.
Tesla reported a $312 million profit for the three months that ended Sept. 30, thanks to a surge in production and sales of its Model 3 sedan. The company has long promised that the model would help make electric vehicles and Tesla itself a mass-market phenomenon.
The report is a milestone for Mr. Musk, whose leadership was cast in doubt in recent months as he faced a lawsuit by regulators over his musings on Twitter about taking the company private. He had also hurled insults against short-sellers and admonished analysts on a call for asking “boring, bonehead questions.” He agreed last month to step down as chairman of the company to settle a lawsuit in which the Securities and Exchange Commission accused him of misleading investors about his plans to take the company private.
On Wednesday, he was even-tempered on a conference call with analysts. He declined to answer a question about the makeup of the company’s board, saying he would discuss only operational issues. (In the agreement with the S.E.C., Tesla agreed to appoint two new independent directors to its board.)
In the 15 years since Mr. Musk and his partners founded Tesla, the company has never reported an annual profit. In previous quarters, the company’s costs increased as it made more cars. To finance its operations, Tesla, which also makes solar panels and batteries, has had to sell stock, take out loans and ask customers to make $1,000 refundable deposits for cars and energy products that they might not get for many months.
The profit the company reported in the third quarter will help stabilize Tesla’s finances and end a streak of quarters in which the automaker used close to $1 billion in cash. In the second quarter, the company reported a $718 million loss.
Tesla ended September with $3 billion in cash compared with $2.2 billion at the end of the previous quarter. The company generated $881 million in free cash flow — cash produced through operations less capital expenditures. “The cash-flow number is impressive,” said David Whiston, an auto analyst at Morningstar. “That’s a lot of cash for a company their size.”
But the company could face difficulties ahead. The increase in sales of the Model 3 could cause demand to soften in the fourth quarter.
The company, which until recently only sold tens of thousands of luxury cars a year, will need to find many more buyers for the Model 3, which sells for $46,000 to $64,000 before federal and state tax incentives. Mr. Musk said that the company expected sales to remain strong as it starts shipping the car to Europe in the first three months of next year and Asia after that.
Tesla produced more than 53,000 Model 3 cars from July to September, nearly twice as many as in the previous three months. Deliveries of the Model 3 totaled more than 56,000, about three times as many as in the previous quarter.
“As long as they keep producing more cars than the previous quarter, there’s a good chance they can keep profits going,” Mr. Whiston said.
In a sign that buyers are still interested in the car after months of waiting for it, Tesla said that of the 455,000 Model 3 reservations it reported having in August 2017, fewer than 20 percent had been canceled.
Tesla next year is supposed to start making a more affordable version of the Model 3 priced at $35,000, and Mr. Musk has said that Tesla would lose money on that model if the company produced it now. The cheaper Model 3 is important because the $7,500 federal tax credit available to buyers of Tesla cars will be cut by half on Jan. 1 and phased out entirely over the course of 2019, making the company’s cars more expensive.
Tesla recently began offering a Model 3 priced at $46,000 as an interim step before it can produce the $35,000 version. “We don’t really have the ability to get to $35,000 right away,” Mr. Musk said, but he said Tesla was “probably less than six months from that.”
Even though Tesla is finally hitting its stride in production, “the company isn’t out of the woods yet,” said Jeremy Acevedo, manager of industry analysis at Edmunds, a market researcher. “The $35,000 Model 3 remains a fantasy, and with the full tax credit for that car now off the table, it will be interesting to see how many buyers are willing to keep waiting for it to be a reality.”
The company is still struggling to deliver cars to customers, which Mr. Musk has described as “delivery logistics hell.” The quality of the Model 3 has also come under question as many customers have complained about receiving cars with scratched paint, cracked windows and other defects.
Consumer Reports on Wednesday lowered Tesla’s reliability ranking by six places, to 27th out of 29 automakers. The magazine said its members complained about the suspension in the company’s full-size Model S sedan.
If sales falter, the company could quickly find itself in a financial squeeze. It has to make bond payments of $230 million in November and $920 million in March. It can use stock for the second payment but only if its share price is above $360. At the same time, Tesla hopes to build a factory in China, which will require hundreds of millions of dollars in capital expenses.
As of Sept. 30, Tesla owed its suppliers $3.6 billion, up from $3 billion at the end of the second quarter. The company’s debt totaled more than $10 billion.
Tesla shares closed at $288.50 on Wednesday before its earnings were released, down more than 20 percent from early August. The stock was up 10 percent in aftermarket trading.
Web & Domain Protection Software Market SWOT Analysis by Key Players: Leaseweb, Namecheap, SiteLock, Verisign, Sucuri
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Chapter 12 Conclusions & Appendix
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BY SYLVIA SANCHEZ
Bombastic barrister Michael Avenatti facing new indictment for Nike ‘shakedown’
Prosecutors slapped trash-talking attorney Michael Avenatti with a new charge Wednesday for his alleged shakedown of Nike while also reducing the legal risk for celeb lawyer Mark Geragos, who is implicated in the case.
The new indictment filed in Manhattan Federal Court eliminated conspiracy charges against Avenatti, who is accused of attempting to extort the shoe giant for more than $20 million or he’d go public with claims the company secretly paid college basketball prospects.
Avenatti and Geragos were representing Gary Franklin Sr., a prominent figure in the youth basketball world, when prosecutors say Avenatti crossed the line from legal advocate to criminal.
A conspiracy charge requires an agreement with a second person, raising the possibility that Geragos was the other person involved in the alleged extortion plot. But in the new indictment, prosecutors replaced two conspiracy charges with an honest services fraud charge against Avenatti. The evidence in the case remains the same.
“I’ll go take $10 billion off your client’s market cap… I’m not f—–g around,” Avenatti told Nike lawyers on March 20, according to a criminal complaint.
Avenatti, 48, demanded Nike hire him and Geragos to conduct an internal investigation paying up to $25 million, the complaint reads.
Avenatti has pleaded not guilty and said he’s the victim of “vindictive prosecution” due to his criticism of President Trump. As part of his defense, Avenatti seeks to introduce evidence of Nike payments to college basketball players.
Geragos, a Los Angeles-based attorney who has represented celebrities including Winona Ryder, Kesha, Colin Kaepernick and Michael Jackson, did not respond to an email. He has not been charged.
“I am extremely pleased that the two counts alleging I engaged in a conspiracy against Nike have just been dismissed by Trump’s DOJ. I expect to be fully exonerated when it is all said and done,” Avenatti tweeted.
A trial is set for January.
Avenatti is separately charged in Manhattan with stealing $300,000 from a book deal made by his former client, porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had an affair with Trump. Avenatti became famous in large part through his aggressive representation of Daniels.
By STEPHEN REX BROWN
Elon Musk picks Berlin for Tesla’s Europe Gigafactory
Elon Musk said Tuesday during an awards ceremony in Germany that Tesla’s European gigafactory will be built in the Berlin area.
Musk was on stage to receive a Golden Steering Wheel Award given by BILD.
“There’s not enough time tonight to tell all the details,” Musk said during an on stage interview with Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess. “But it’s in the Berlin area, and it’s near the new airport.”
Tesla is also going to create an engineering and design center in Berlin because “I think Berlin has some of the best art in the world,” Musk said.
Musk took to Twitter after the ceremony and provided a bit more detail, including that this factory will build batteries, powertrains and vehicles, beginning with the Model Y.
Will build batteries, powertrains & vehicles, starting with Model Y
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 12, 2019
Diess thanked Musk while on stage for “pushing us” towards electrification. Diess later said that Musk and Telsa is demonstrating that moving towards electrification works.
“I don’t think Germany is that far behind,” Musk said when asked about why German automakers were behind in electric vehicles. He later added that some of the best cars in the world are made in Germany.
“Everyone knows that German engineering is outstanding and that’s part of the reason we’re locating our gigafactory Europe in Germany,” Musk said.
By Kirsten Korosec
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