Tesla 'On The Verge' of Bankruptcy: Vilas Capital

As electric car company Tesla Inc. (TSLA) and its CEO Elon Musk gear up for a make-or-break earnings report next month, one chief investment officer (CIO), John Thompson of  Vilas Capital, tells Fortune that the company is "without any doubt" on "the verge of bankruptcy." (See also: Tesla's Stock Enters Crossroads as Financial Crunch Looms.)

Bears have increasingly criticized Tesla's cash position as it faces pressure to ramp up production for its first mass-market vehicle, the Model 3 sedan. Some investors are losing confidence in serial entrepreneur and angel investor Elon Musk, who despite his history of beating the odds, has continually delayed targets for his Palo Alto, California-based automaker at a time when it faces heightened competition from traditional car companies and EV startups. This week, Moody's downgraded Tesla's corporate family rating to B3 from B2, citing a lackluster production rate of the Model 3, while short sellers continue to bet against Tesla's stock and its high-yield bond

TSLA, trading down 9% on Wednesday morning at $254.06, has fallen about 35% from its all-time high reached last year and declined 18.5% over the the past three months. 

Tesla vs. Ford as a Reality Check

Vilas Capital's Thompson wrote a note to investors this week forecasting Tesla to crash within three to six months as it combats Model 3 delivery setbacks and waning demand for its higher-end Model S and X cars, as reported in a Fortune story on March 27. His downbeat outlook comes as Tesla shareholders demonstrated their confidence in the CEO by approving an unprecedented pay package for Musk tied to decade-long targets such as the company reaching $650 billion in market capitalization, up from its current value at about $42.8 billion. If Musk leads the Silicon Valley EV pioneer to reach its lofty goals, he could see up to $50 billion in stock option awards vest

The CEO of Tesla, aerospace company SpaceX and The Boring Co. employs a strategy of funding growth through a series of capital raises. The hedge fund manager expects Musk to need approximately $8 billion over the next year and a half just to keep his car company operating. 

"As a reality check, Tesla is worth twice as much as Ford [Motor Co.] (F), yet Ford made 6 million cars last year at a $7.6 billion profit while Tesla made 100,000 cars at a $2 billion loss," wrote Thompson. 

Never Seen Anything So Absurd

While the Vilas Capital CIO, who has consistently outperformed the market, according to Fortune, says he has "never seen anything so absurd" in his career, Musk is accustomed to hearing to similar remarks from his detractors on the Street. 

TSLA stock has gained 570% over the past five years, to the benefit of its investors' pockets. Musk's rocket company SpaceX, once near bankruptcy, inked a massive government contract and is now a leader in its industry. While investors were doubtful that his auto startup could even make an electric car, Musk succeeded in building a company that now competes against some of the industry's most powerful, long-standing leaders, with its Model S sedan receiving the highest quality ratings. 

Bulls, including Baird's Ben Kallo, argue that investors have become way too pessimistic on TSLA stock, foreseeing shares jumping nearly 62% to over $410 in 12 months. Kallo wrote in a recent research note that even if Tesla hasn't reached a production rate of 2,500 Model 3s per week, he expects it doing so "within weeks." (See also: Tesla Downgraded by Moody's Amid Model 3 Production Woes.)

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