Jefferies upgrades Tesla, predicting 20% rally and reduced role for Musk

Tesla was upgraded by a Jefferies analyst who cited the company’s strengthening balance sheet, strong growth relative to the rest of the auto industry and improving productivity witnessed at a recent visit to the electric car maker’s factory in Fremont, California.

“Tesla should continue to stand out with broader price points, battery security of supply, product edge and a brand that transcends the volume/premium divide,” Philippe Houchois said in a note to clients Friday. “In short, in the year ahead we think only Tesla will avoid a volume zero-sum-game or negative margin trade-off in EVs.”

He also said CEO Elon Musk should consider “reducing his direct involvement in Tesla to focus on product/vision/other ventures.”

Jefferies upgraded Tesla to buy from hold and raised its price target all the way to $450 from $360. From Tesla’s closing price Thursday of $363.06, the new 12-month price forecast from Jefferies would represent a 24 percent gain. Tesla shares have jumped 37 percent this quarter, while the S&P 500 has lost 7 percent. GM shares are up 6 percent over the same period and Ford is down 2 percent

Tesla shares gained 1.8 percent in premarket trading Friday following the call.

“The shares have done well since Q3 but, with Tesla having demonstrated its profit and self-funding potential, its growth becomes value-accretive just as peers are engaging in a mostly negative EV sum game,” Houchois said.

The rally this quarter brought Tesla on Thursday to a close above a key milestone, higher than the $359.88 conversion price on $920 million in convertible bonds due in March. This should ease some concerns from investors worried about the company’s debt load. The stock has rallied back to levels last seen in August at the start of CEO Elon Musk’s tweet controversy about having secured funding to take Tesla private.

Musk ended up settling charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission over the tweet by agreeing to pay a fine and give up his chairman title for three years.

“Elon Musk’s erratic behavior makes us wonder if he might be considering reducing his direct involvement in Tesla to focus on product/vision/other ventures,” Houchois wrote. “We think such a move might be better suited to Mr Musk’s talents than driving manufacturing efficiency and would benefit Tesla.”

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