Tesla’s share price fell by more than 10% Friday morning, adding to steady losses over the last month that have wiped out about one-third of the automaker’s market value amid concerns about flagging sales.
After recovering some of those losses, the stock was trading at about $590 around 1 p.m., down from $621 at the end of trading Thursday. The current price leaves Tesla, which sells electric cars, batteries and solar panels, with a market value of about $565 billion. A month ago, Tesla stock was priced above $870 a share, and its market value was more than $800 billion, as many investors bet that the company would revolutionize the auto and energy industries, dealing fatal blows to older and more established companies.
The sharp drop comes as many investors have pulled back from riskier stocks and investments in anticipation of rising interest rates. In addition, auto analysts and sales data have suggested that Tesla is facing tougher competition in the United States and China. Analysts at Morgan Stanley said Wednesday that Tesla lost market share last month in the United States to Ford Motor’s new electric model, the Mustang Mach E.
The China Passenger Car Association also said Tesla sold 15,484 locally made cars in January. That is higher than the same period a year ago but lower than December’s total of 23,804. Tesla’s sales in China often fluctuate when the company exports batches of cars made at a Shanghai plant to other markets such as Australia and Europe.
“Tesla has really benefited from that halo of, ‘It doesn’t really matter how many vehicles we sell this year or how much cash we burn,’ " said David Whiston, a Morningstar analyst. “It’s all been, ‘Where are we going to be five or 10 years from now?’ But lately there’s been a bit more turbulence.”
But Whiston added that Tesla share price was incredibly volatile, and it could be hard to deduce clear trends from watching it move up and down. “The way it fluctuates, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s back above $700 next week,” he said.
Institutional investors may have been selling some of their stakes in Tesla in recent weeks, but the regulatory forms that would reveal such sales will not come out for weeks. Some big shareholders slashed their Tesla holdings last year. Baillie Gifford, a Scottish investment manager and a longtime Tesla shareholder, cut its position to just over 27 million shares at the end of last year, down from nearly 59 million shares at the end of June.
Tesla has long been a favored target of investors who aim to profit from declines in the price of stocks. Known as short sellers, they borrow shares and sell them, hoping to buy them back in the future at a lower price. If successful, short sellers can pocket the difference between selling and buying price, but the trades can also go horribly wrong if the share prices rise a lot, as happened recently with the shares of GameStop, the video game retailer.
As Tesla’s stock soared in recent years, short sellers would have lost billions of dollars on their bets, perhaps scaring some of them away from betting against Tesla, which has gained wide popularity among individual investors, many of whom revere the company’s chief executive, Elon Musk. In the middle of February, nearly 48 million Tesla shares had been sold short, according to the Nasdaq stock exchange, down from nearly 61 million shares at the end of 2020.
The competitive threats against Tesla are growing, but the company has enough cash in hand to finance its operations for some time. It took advantage of its soaring stock price last year by selling more than $12 billion of new stock to investors and now has more than $19 billion of cash. Tesla spent $1.5 billion on Bitcoin early this year, and even if the company takes big losses on that wager, it would still have significant cash on hand.
Despite the recent decline, Tesla shares are still up around 300% over the past 12 months. And the company’s market value is more than the combined market capitalization of Toyota Motor, Volkswagen, Daimler, General Motors and Ford — companies that sell many more cars than Tesla.
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