Is Tesla Still Overvalued?

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I’ve never been a huge fan of Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA).

Don’t get me wrong, the company’s products – from its electric cars to its solar panels – are among the best in their respective industries. But the value investor in me has never been able to justify the company’s stock price.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped most investors from buying (and profiting from) its shares over the years. Tesla’s stock surged an astounding 1,700% between 2019 and 2021.

But more recently, the euphoria has faded. Telsa shares have since plummeted by over 50% from its high. So naturally, folks are wondering if this rocket ship has run out of fuel.

Chart: Tesla's Automobile Sales

This week, we’ll take a balanced look at this controversial stock using our Value Meter criteria. Because while Tesla certainly isn’t cheap by traditional metrics, the stock may not be as outrageously expensive as it once was.

The company has an enterprise value to net assets (EV/NAV) ratio of 8.7. That represents a 36% premium to the 6.4 average among companies with positive net asset values. In other words, investors are paying a slight markup to acquire each dollar of Tesla’s net assets compared with the average business out there.

However, that premium looks more reasonable when we consider Tesla’s impressive cash flow generation. For each of the past four quarters, Tesla generated positive free cash flow averaging 2% of its net assets.

At first glance, that figure may not jump off the page. But it’s quite strong relative to other companies that have strung together four straight quarters of positive free cash flow.

In fact, many firms in that category have been burning cash, posting an average free cash outflow equivalent to -1% of net assets. But if you include companies with positive and negative free cash flow over the trailing 12 months, as I typically do, the average jumps to a much healthier 15.5% of net assets.

What explains the gap?

For one, cash flow generation tends to be more volatile for smaller, high-growth businesses, while larger and more mature firms usually see steadier cash inflows. For example, among the 500 biggest companies based on enterprise value, the average free cash flow to net assets is around 3%.

That’s not far off from Tesla’s recent performance.

In that context, Tesla’s cash machine is respectable for a business of its size and with its current low debt. And its ability to consistently mint money even in a tough environment for car sales is another testament to the strength of its brand and business model.

Chart: Is Now the Time to Buy Tesla?

Management believes Tesla can keep that momentum going in 2023 and beyond.

The company is targeting a 50% average annual increase in vehicle deliveries over the next several years. If Tesla can get close to that goal while sustaining its cash flow generation, the stock’s current valuation may be a bargain.

However, Tesla faces plenty of potential speed bumps ahead, from Elon Musk’s distracting Twitter takeover to rising competition in the EV space to a looming recession. The road to future growth will likely be a bumpy one.

But Tesla has proven the naysayers wrong time and again.

While Tesla’s valuation does bake in some rosy growth expectations, the current stock price no longer seems outlandish for a dominant company with solid financials and serious long-term potential.

The Value Meter rates Tesla stock as “Appropriately Valued.”

The Value Meter

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