Tesla, as of this writing, is worth a hair over $180 billion. That doesn’t make it the world’s most valuable carmaker, but goddamn if it isn’t getting close.
The most valuable would be Toyota, which as of this writing has a market capitalization of $205 billion. One difference between the two companies is that Toyota’s net income for its fiscal year ending on March 31, 2020, was $19 billion, while the corresponding number for Tesla in that same period is negative $144 million.
But a company’s stock price, the stock price knowers will tell you, doesn’t always correlate with a company’s profits or lack thereof. I can hear them now, screaming as they read this on their Bloomberg terminals, or maybe their standing desks in their home offices. Instead, a stock price is usually more closely tied to where investors think a company will go in the future. By this measure, Toyota’s stock—propping up that $205 billion valuation—seems reasonably priced, since you would expect a company like Toyota to continue selling a lot of cars and for a long time and at a decent profit.
But Tesla’s stock price, by this measure, makes less sense. Tesla still has never strung together four consecutive profitable quarters. Tesla still does not have much of a track record, certainly by automaker standards, historically speaking. And Tesla’s strategy of betting the house on every new product is the definition of risk. It certainly worked with the Model 3, but the jury’s still out on the Model Y, for which Tesla has even bigger ambitions, and the jury hasn’t even been summoned yet for the Cybertruck, Semi, or Roadster.
Tesla’s stock price—which briefly soared to over $1,000 today–means a great many people have looked at that situation and said: I’m in.
CEO Elon Musk would say:
Which is actually more insightful than you might think, since all of Musk’s compensation incentives are years and years away, and have little to do with how much Tesla stock is worth right now. If Musk thinks the stock is overvalued, in other words, there’s no reason not to take him at his word.
Where Musk and the Tesla bulls do align is in the company’s long-term future, since the bulls will tell you that Tesla’s product is so revolutionary that Tesla is poised to go on a tear like no automaker in history. Musk and his compensation are counting on the exact same thing.