As chatter around Tesla, Inc.'s (TSLA) Model 3 launch subsides, analysts and investors have begun focusing their conversation on another topic – they are evaluating whether the company has enough money to finance the car's production. Tesla has had net negative cash flow during most of its short existence, and its expenses have multiplied on the back of heavy spending for the Model 3 this year.
On Wednesday's earnings call, Tesla CEO Elon Musk held out the possibility that the company could tap debt markets for another raise to mitigate production risk. Tesla has already raised $1.5 billion from equity and debt markets earlier this year, including $250 million in common stock and $750 million in convertible senior notes due in 2022. During the call, Tesla CFO Deepak Ahuja pointed to the $800 million credit line increase for the asset-based line (ABL) that Tesla uses to finance in-transit vehicles and added that the company could also use tax credits from its acquisition of SolarCity Corporation last year. (See also: Will Tesla Make a Profit in 2017?)
Tesla plans to roll out 500,000 Model 3 cars some time in 2018. It also plans to upgrade its production capacity to crank out 10,000 vehicles per week from its factory floor by the end of next year to meet demand. Analysts have cast doubt on those numbers. For example, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas has estimated that Tesla will deliver no more than 2,000 Model 3 cars this year and 90,000 cars next year.
Given the disconnect, should investors be concerned about Tesla's burgeoning bill for the Model 3? A look at how Tesla is spending its money might help answer that question. Tesla acquired Grohmann Engineering, a German automation firm, earlier this year for "approximately $150 million." This April, Tesla received a shipment of robots from Fanuc Corporation (FANUY) and Kuka Robotics to use in the Model 3 manufacturing process. Musk's eventual goal is to have a production floor comprising only robots, with humans venturing onto the floor only to manage and reprogram the robots. This will help the company achieve scale in its production and supply chain. (See also: Is Tesla Losing Money Each Time It Sells a Car?)
During Tesla's third quarter earnings call last year, Musk said that the Model 3 supply chain system is designed so that "the faster Model 3 production grows, the faster Tesla's cash balance grows." This is because, unlike other car companies, Tesla does not ship to dealers. Instead, the company ships directly to customers and therefore has a significant amount of money tied to its in-transit cars. For the Model 3, Tesla has negotiated better terms from suppliers for payment in 60 days as opposed to payments between 40 and 45 days for its Model S and Model X cars. The $800 million credit line increase has also translated to a net $2 billion ABL line at Tesla's disposal for payments.
A Model 3 production delay could affect Tesla's cash flow position and make it difficult for Tesla to tap equity and debt markets for more cash. Analysts have chimed in with their assessment. Morgan Stanley's Jonas stated that the additional capital raise will "make your eyes water. ... Time will tell if they are tears of joy." David Whiston from Morningstar Research was matter-of-fact about Tesla's capital raise. "People need to get used to Tesla being heavily reliant on further capital raises to achieve its ambitious growth plans," he wrote. Colin Rusch from Oppenheimer & Co. has estimated that Tesla will need $12.5 billion through 2018 to finance its various ventures. At the end of last quarter, Tesla had $3 billion in cash, and it has forecast capital spending of $2 billion by the end of this year. Future cash raises for Tesla seem inevitable. (See also: Tesla's Model 3: Musk Warns of 'Manufacturing Hell'.)