Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Picture: BRITTA PEDERSEN
Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Picture: BRITTA PEDERSEN

Tesla joined an elite group of companies with market values of at least $1-trillion on Monday, a key milestone for the Elon Musk-led carmaker whose shares have been on a tear amid a global shift to electric vehicles.

The maker of the Model 3 sedan — the top-selling electric car worldwide — is now the second fastest company ever to reach this mark, taking just over 11 years since its public debut in June 2010. Facebook did it faster, though its market capitalisation is now below $1-trillion as the stock has sold off over the past two months. The other US-listed members of the trillion-dollar club include Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet and Amazon.com. 

The stock jumped as much as 9.8% on Monday, the biggest intraday move since March 9. It touched a record high of $998.74, which took its market capitalisation above $1-trillion, based on about a billion shares outstanding as of October 21.

Tesla’s addition to the coterie of megacap technology names comes as the automotive industry is on the cusp of a huge transformation, with electric vehicles expected to take the place of gas-driven cars globally. The company and its charismatic and often controversial co-founder and CEO Elon Musk are seen as one of the main driving forces behind this shift.

Musk’s wealth has also skyrocketed alongside the latest climb in the company’s stock price. The billionaire co-founder is now the richest man in the world, with a net worth of about $252bn, comfortably ahead of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s $193bn, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Musk is also the biggest shareholder of Tesla, with a nearly 17% stake, according to Bloomberg data.

The company’s shares have been on a streak over the past five months, climbing more than 75% since mid-May. However, the rally got a big boost this month amid a flurry of encouraging headlines: strong third-quarter earnings and deliveries, a big order from car-rental giant Hertz Global Holdings, and a report that the company’s Model 3 was the top-selling vehicle in Europe last month. 

“Tesla is the leader in EV manufacturing, batteries and autonomy,” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas wrote in a note on Monday. “Tesla also has a suite of enabling technologies and other businesses that would allow the company to be an auto and energy champion in the long run.”

The push towards electrifying all modes of transportation — especially cars, trucks, buses and vans — has rapidly intensified this year, with governments pledging to find solutions for the climate-change crisis. Countries across the world have announced policies to lower carbon emissions and incentivise corporations to move towards greener technologies. The entire electric-vehicle ecosystem — including carmakers, battery developers and charging-network operators — has been climbing as a result.

“The outlook for EV adoption is getting much brighter, due to a combination of more policy support, further improvements in battery density and cost, more charging infrastructure being built, and rising commitments from automakers,” Bloomberg New Energy Finance noted in a September report. BNEF estimated that passenger EV sales will increase sharply in the next few years, reaching 14-million in 2025 compared with 3.1 million in 2020. 

Valuation   

Yet, some say those bright and shiny growth numbers still do not fully justify Tesla’s mammoth size. It is not only the biggest carmaker in the world, its market capitalisation is significantly bigger than all of the top car companies taken together. However, Tesla still manufactures only a fraction of the number of cars that some of these companies, like General Motors, produce. 

“We acknowledge Tesla is executing impeccably, but this does not alter our view Tesla is egregiously overvalued,” Roth Capital Partners analyst Craig Irwin wrote in a note on October 21, saying that the company’s current valuation appears to rest on the “specious assumption that the hundreds of EVs slated for launch by 2025 will all be flops”. 

Competition is indeed building up. After being on the sidelines for years, with mostly hybrid or just a few electric cars in their line-up, almost all major legacy vehicle companies in 2021 have announced aggressive plans for making EVs and developing the required ecosystem that includes batteries and charging-station networks. 

Bullish investors and analysts, on the other hand, say Tesla should not be compared to its auto peers at all. It is more like a technology company, they argue, and is correctly valued accordingly.  

Tesla shares now trade at 172 times their estimated 2021 earnings, compared to 34 times for the NYSE+ FANG Index, whose other nine members include Nvidia, Alphabet, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon.com, Netflix, Alibaba Group Holding and Baidu. 

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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