Tesla stock called a ‘buy’ amid confusion about car maker’s factory

Tesla Inc. stock picked up a couple of upgrades this week while confusion still reigned about the extent the company’s California factory had been affected by a coronavirus-related shutdown.

Bank of America analysts moved Tesla TSLA, -11.67% shares one notch to the equivalent of hold as Tesla stock fell about 50% during the coronavirus-related stock carnage. About a month ago, Tesla shares tested $900; they were recently trading under $400.

The upgrade is based “solely on valuation,” the analysts said, also upgrading their price target on the stock from $370 to $500. “While we continue to view (Tesla) as a trailblazer in the electric vehicle (EV) market, we believe investor optimism around the company and its business/financial future remains overhyped.”

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Tesla’s volume growth “is real, but governed by capacity expansion and capital commitment,” the EV market is not unlimited, and likely smaller than people realized, and its profitability and cash flow “are not good or consistent, and are major risks,” the analysts said as they enumerated risks around the stock.

CFRA analyst Garrett Nelson upgraded Tesla shares to hold from sell this week, also based on the stock’s precipitous fall alongside U.S. equities.

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“With (Tesla) shares down more than 50% since hitting a record high last month and having reached our price target, we now view (Tesla’s) risk/reward profile as much more balanced and raise our opinion to hold,” he said. The new Model Y compact SUV is likely to sell “very well” and the timing of Tesla’s $2.3 billion equity raise was a “prudent move that helped boost liquidity.”

Tesla earlier this week announced its first Model Y delivery and has said it planned to continue operating its Fremont factory in California.

Late Tuesday, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department said in a tweet that Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., factory was a nonessential business and may only maintain “minimum basic operations” amid a regional shelter-in-place order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It was unclear if that meant the factory would shut, in part or in whole, and Tesla has not responded to several requests for comment. Several counties in the San Francisco Bay Area are under a shelter-in-place order that went into effect Tuesday.

Tesla workers reportedly showed up for work at the Tesla plant, though CEO Elon Musk said in an internal email that it was “totally OK” to stay home, the San Jose Mercury News reported, adding that Musk told employees he would continue coming to work every day.

The factory employs about 10,000 people. Musk has played down the risk of coronavirus in tweets, saying Monday that the “danger of panic still far exceeds danger” of COVID-19 and earlier this month calling the “panic” over the virus “dumb.” Tesla has not updated investors about its plans for the coronavirus disruptions.

On Tuesday, the United Auto Workers and Detroit car companies reached agreements to avoid weeks-long shutdowns of U.S. factories. Tesla does not have an unionized workforce.

The union said late Tuesday that company executives had agreed to partial shutdowns of plants to allow for cleaning between shifts and other measures to minimize potential virus transmission.