Tesla skeptic changes tune on Model 3 battery costs: ‘TSLA remains ahead of the pack’

Longtime Tesla skeptic UBS appears to be taking a rather bullish outlook on the electric car maker. In a recent note, UBS analyst Colin Langan raised his price target for Tesla stock (NASDAQ:TSLA) from a conservative $190 to a more optimistic $230, citing the Model 3’s battery cost advantages over competitors currently available in the market.

The UBS analysts, together with a group of engineers, analyzed batteries from Panasonic/Tesla, LG Chem, Samsung SDI, and Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL). According to the team’s analysis, the Model 3’s batteries, which are produced at the Gigafactory 1 in NV, are around 20% more cost efficientthan LG Chem’s batteries, which are the second-best in the list. The UBS analysts estimated that Tesla’s batteries currently cost $111 per kWh, which is around $37 per kWh cheaper than LG Chem’s batteries, its closest competitor.

In what could only be described as an admission of miscalculations in the past, UBS analyst Colin Langan, who has consistently given TSLA a “Sell” rating, noted that the firm now believes that competitors from established automakers would likely be less profitable than the electric car maker in the EV market.

“Contrary to our team’s previous view, they now believe incumbent OEMs will be less profitable than Tesla in EV space. Tesla’s cost advantage can be defended (at least temporarily) because other OEMs will not switch to cheaper NCA chemistry. We continue to believe that TSLA remains ahead of the pack when it comes to EV tech,” the analyst noted.

Based on Tesla’s lower cost battery and considering non-zero emission electric vehicle credits, the UBS analyst also boosted his fiscal 2019 earnings per share estimate for the electric car maker by $5.85 to $3.55, as noted by The Fly. Keeping his longtime stance on the company, though, Langan nevertheless maintained a “Sell” rating on Tesla, with a price target of $230.

While the financial firm remains notably skeptical about Tesla as evidenced by Langan’s consistent “Sell” rating, UBS’ admission of the Model 3’s battery cost advantages could very well signify a shift in Wall Street’s general perception of the electric car maker. Together with a vote of confidence from Zacks Investment Research in the form of a “Strong Buy” rating after Tesla’s release of its third quarter earnings, Tesla’s capability to maintain profitability in the coming quarters is beginning to appear incredibly feasible.

Elon Musk noted during the third quarter earnings call that Tesla would have a positive net income and cash flow in the present quarter, and in all quarters moving forward. Musk even remarked that even in times when Tesla has to conduct repayments, the company should display a flat cash flow.

“We expect to again have positive net income and cash flow in Q4. And I believe our aspiration is something that will be for all quarters going forward. I think we can actually be positive cash flow and profitable for all quarters going forward, leaving aside the quarters where we may need to do a significant repayment but — for example, in Q1 next year. But I think even in Q1, I think we can be approximately flat in cash flow by end of quarter,” Musk said.

Behind these predictions lies Tesla’s battery technology, which continues to get better over time. As noted by President of Automotive Jerome Guillen, Tesla’s batteries are always in a state of improvement. Thus, while UBS’ analysis has concluded that the Model 3’s batteries are the best in the market, Tesla’s batteries in the coming months would likely show an even wider gap over its competitors.

“We are improving the design of the cell. The design of the cell is not frozen. It evolves, and we have a nice roadmap of technology improvements for the coming years,” Guillen said.

Disclosure: I have no ownership in shares of TSLA and have no plans to initiate any positions within 72 hours.

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