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Analyst: 'Tesla is set up to run away' from competitors

Tesla (TSLA) might not need its visionary founder and CEO Elon Musk to charge ahead, according to at least one analyst.

“Even if Elon Musk were to disappear tomorrow … Tesla is set up to run away,” Tasha Keeney of ARK Invest said on Yahoo finance’s Final Round on Monday (video above). “They’ve reached that take-off point.”

For some investors, Tesla’s future came into question last week after Musk was hit with an SEC lawsuit alleging he’d defraud investors. The SEC’s allegations related to statements Musk made on Twitter and on his company website in August claiming that he had “funding secured” to bring Tesla private at a price of $420 per share. The suit sought to remove Musk as chairman and CEO of the company. 

The charges were settled Saturday, with Tesla and Musk agreeing to pay $20 million each to regulators. Musk was removed as chairman for at least three years, but is permitted to stay on as CEO. The stock surged on Monday, ending the day up more than 17%.

Tesla cars sit parked outside a Tesla dealership in the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, August 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

‘Tesla has this amazing market share position’

Keeney argued that Tesla even without Musk, the electric car-maker would still be “three years ahead” of competitors on battery production, autonomous hardware, and autonomous data.

“Tesla has this amazing market share position,” Keeney said. “We just want them to scale, and we want them to launch fully autonomous capability and build out the Tesla autonomous network.”

ARK Invest has been a longtime Tesla bull: Two of its funds include TSLA as its top holding. The company’s Chief Investment Officer Cathie Wood sent a letter to Musk in August after he’d proposed taking the company private requesting that he keep Tesla a public company. ARK Invest at the time had Tesla valued “somewhere between $700 and $4,000 per share in five years,” or as much as nearly 10 times more than Musk had priced his shares for a private Tesla. The upper end of the price target assumed that Tesla would grow from a hardware manufacturer to a Mobility-as-a-Service business with wider margins and robust autonomous networks.

A view of a Tesla Model X on June 23, 2017. (Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images)

‘Sustainably profitable’

ARK Invest’s optimism diverges from the sentiment many other investors, who have largely been skittish on the stock in light of the controversy Musk has stirred up in public statements and Tesla’s inconsistency in meeting production deadlines. Tesla currently is rated as having nine buys, 10 holds and 14 sells, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Citigroup analysts on Friday downgraded Tesla’s stock to “sell” from “neutral,” adding that if Musk were to depart, “it would likely cause harm to Tesla’s brand, stakeholder confidence, and fundraising.”

Some other analysts agreed that Tesla’s fundraising prospects would be hampered without Musk leading the company. UBS analyst Colin Langan said in a note last week that he estimated Tesla would need to raise capital in 2019. He added that the company would have a harder time fundraising were Musk not to stay on as CEO since its previous access to capital markets had been predicated largely on “the public perception of Musk as a visionary.”

Langan’s comments come even as Musk has continuously pushed back against raising additional funds for Tesla. Musk told investors during a second-quarter earnings call that Tesla would “not be raising any equity at any point” and that “we certainly could raise money, but … it is better discipline not to.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks at a news conference, Thursday, June 14, 2018, in Chicago.

Tesla has continuously burned through cash and has yet to turn a profit. The company’s free cash flow in the second quarter alone totaled negative $739.5 million, bringing the company to a net loss of $717.5 million, the company reported in August.

In an August letter to investors, Musk said Tesla could “become sustainably profitable for the first time in our history” from the third quarter onwards at a production rate of 7,000 cars per week. The company is set to announce third-quarter production and delivery figures in early October.

“If Tesla were to raise money, we’d be happy that they did that because we just want them to scale,” Keeney said. “We want them to launch fully autonomous capability and build out the Tesla autonomous network.”

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

Read more: Tesla could be in serious trouble if Musk were out