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2020 Tesla Deliveries Will Beat Expectations — But the Stock Is Still a ‘Sell’

According to Elon Musk, Tesla (TSLA) will end 2020 delivering 500,000 electric cars to its customers. According to Wall Street, however, Tesla is going to miss that target -- and maybe by a lot.

Cowen & Co. predicts Tesla will miss its mark by more than 30,000 cars, while RBC Capital projects Tesla will fall only about 10,000 cars short of the mark, and JMP Securities thinks 9,000. Wedbush, Needham & Co., and Tiger Securities -- all of these investment banks, too, are publicly predicting that Tesla will fall short of its 500,000 cars-in-a-single-year goal, albeit by slimmer margins.

But "Tesla Bear" Gordon Johnson at GLJ Research? He thinks Tesla's going to hit its number, and then some.

Johnson lays out his thesis, first by dismissing his fellow analysts' predictions of a sales miss ("the sell-side sandbags on forward delivery ests, making it easy for TSLA to "beat"), and then explaining why in his opinion, Tesla will in fact beat estimates for deliveries this quarter -- and why it doesn't matter.

Basically, Johnson's thinking goes like this: arms-length commercial transactions between Tesla electric cars and its car-buying consumers in Q4 2020 will in fact be only about 174,000, explains Johnson. But if Musk left things like that, he would fall 8,000 cars short of his promised 500,000 deliveries for the year -- a big disappointment. So to get the 182,000 deliveries he needs in Q4, to complete his promised 500,000 cars delivered for the year, Musk will have Tesla supplement "real-world" sales with a combination of sales to corporate and rental car fleets, to car leasing companies, to car sellers, and to "related parties."

With these supplemental sales factored in, Johnson projects that Tesla will easily pass the 182,000-car mark for Q4, selling perhaps as many as 184,000 Teslas, and thus "beating estimates" for 500,000 deliveries for the year.

And yet, in Johnson's view, "500,000" isn't really the right number to focus on -- first because it's an artificial goal line that will be artificially crossed, but second because 500,000 is already a lowball number. As the analyst reminds, "in 2018 TSLA guided 2020 deliveries to 750K-1mn" cars delivered, and before that, Musk had guided "2020 deliveries to 1mn in 2016." Johnson predicts (and history suggests he's right about this) that "the lion's share of media outlets [will nevertheless] forget TSLA's 2018 guidance for 2020 deliveries of 750K-1mn cars, and praise the coming [500,000+] deliveries beat as a "big win" for the company."

And this brings us to the crux of the matter: Would 500,000 deliveries in a single year really be a "big win" for Tesla? When you consider that established automaker Ford sells 500,000 cars every 34 days, General Motors sells 500,000 cars in 24 days, and Volkswagen needs just 17 days to sell 500,000 cars, while Tesla currently sports a market capitalization of more than three times the market value of Ford, GM, and Volkswagen combined, Johnson continues to insist that Tesla's valuation remains seriously out of whack.

In short, Johnson rates the stock a "sell" and sets a $40 price target on the $666-priced stock. This figure implies a 94% downside from current levels. (To watch Johnson's track record, click here)

Overall, Wall Street is evenly split between a battle of bulls vs. bears on this electric car giant. Out of 25 analysts polled in the last 3 months, 7 are bullish, 11 remain sidelined, and 7 are bearish on TSLA -- all add up to a Hold consensus rating. With a potential downside of ~31%, the stock’s consensus target price stands at $457.83. (See TSLA stock analysis on TipRanks)

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analyst. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.