In a research note, reported on by CNBC, Jeffrey Osborne, managing director at brokerage Cowen, predicted that the electric car maker will announce the delivery of just 2,250 Model 3 sedans in the fourth quarter. That figure falls well short of the 4,000 to 5,000 consensus estimate from Wall Street analysts and 75 percent below Osborne’s earlier forecast — he previously anticipated that Tesla would deliver 9,100 Model 3s in the fourth quarter.
Osborne expects disappointing Model 3 production figures to overshadow "healthy" combined delivery numbers on Model S and X cars and weigh on Tesla’s shares. As a result, he slapped an underperform rating on the stock and a target price of $170, indicating 47 percent potential downside. (See also: Tesla's Stock To See High Volatility, Option Trades Show.)
"While [Model] S/X metrics are likely to be strong, we are taking a more conservative stance on Model 3 deliveries," Osborne wrote in the note, according to Business Insider. "While the exact delivery number isn't that relevant to the long-term investor's view of Tesla shares, we believe more telling will be the run rate production levels."
The analyst added that growing competition and Tesla’s habit of burning through cash will also likely weigh on the company’s share price. According to his estimates, the electric car maker burned though $1.2 billion in cash in the fourth quarter and is poised to continue spending large amounts in the coming years.
Osborne reckons Tesla will need to invest more in its factories, Chinese plant and production capabilities, ahead of the launch of the Tesla Semi, Roadster and Model Y. These additional expenses, he claimed, could see the company’s capital expenditure bill rise $15 billion to $20 billion from 2018-2020, making it increasingly likely that yet another cash call could be forthcoming.
The analyst then went on to warn that investors might be hesitant to help Tesla raise more capital, particularly if it fails to straighten out production issues on the all-important Model 3. (See also: Reports of 'Hundreds' of Cars at Delivery Centers Calm Tesla Production Fears.)
"The narrative around high volume manufacturing of the Model 3 and hitting the 25 percent gross margin target will need to be amplified by management in order for investors to digest such a capital raise in our view," wrote Osborne. "We also hope for more transparency on what Elon Musk's overall vision will truly cost as we believe investors are overlooking many aspects of his total vision and [are] myopically focused on the upcoming quarter or two."