capital raising by Tesla (TSLA)

the offering

Last Friday, TSLA filed a final prospectus with the SEC, indicating that it is selling up to 3.099 million new shares of common stock (including underwriters’ over-allotment) at $242 a share.   This will net the company close to three-quarters of a billion dollars, which it needs to fund ambitious expansion plans–the Gigafactory to make batteries the chief among them.

I presume the precipitous decline of TSLA shares over the past ten days or so was triggered by underwriters soliciting indications of interest in this offering from hedge funds and other institutional investors.  Two bullish signs:  the offering was initially pitched as being 2.1 million shares, but raised to 2.7 million on Friday (not counting the underwriters’ allotment, which will have been bumped up as well).  As I’m writing this prior to Monday’s open, TSLA shares are trading at around $255 each.

my thoughts, (somewhat) randomly presented

  1.  TSLA made what I consider a firm-transforming offering of $3 billion in convertible bonds (at a conversion price of $350 (!!!) a share) last year.  This says something about how professional fixed income investors feel about the attractiveness of straight bonds.  More important for TSLA, the successful offering took talk of building the Gigafactory out of the realm of fantasy and placed it solidly into reality.
  2. The automobile world has changed significantly over the past year, with the plunge in oil prices and the rise of ride-sharing services like Uber.  The former may mess up the economics of electic vehicles; the latter calls into question the highly operationally leveraged corporate structure of traditional car companies (translation into English:  if they need to run at, say, 80% of plant capacity to break even, will that be possible if Millennials en masse use Uber instead of buying a car themselves.  Will the car industry be a replay of the current commodities debacle).
  3. My guess is that these shifts: (i) increase TSLA’s attractiveness to stock market investors vs. conventional car companies, and (ii) make Teslas relatively more attractive abroad, where petroleum products are more expensive than in the US.
  4. It seemed clear to me from the outset that the 2014 bond offering didn’t totally solve TSLA’s need for capital.  Another offering had to happen in 2015.  I’d expected more bonds.  Why stock instead?  Market etiquette says that a new offering should be at a higher price–here meaning a higher conversion price–than previous ones (otherwise last year’s buyers look like idiots).  Also, potential lenders periodically want companies to prove that they still have enthusiastic equity backers.  This is a combination of lenders not wanting financial leverage to be too high, their not wanting to be the only ones holding the bag if things go sour, and their knowledge that bonds are going to be under pressure as interest rates begin to rise.
  5. Last year’s offering signaled a near-term top for TSLA shares.   My instinct is to think that this offering establishes a near-term bottom.  I own a small position in the stock, however, so I may have an interest in thinking this is the case.


Tesla (TSLA) or Solar City (SCTY)–which to choose

TSLA and SCTY are terrestrial companies run by Elon Musk.  TSLA makes electric-powered cars; SCTY generates electric power with solar cells.

what they have in common

Both are publicly traded.

Both are speculative stocks, in the sense that assessing their value involves projecting results far into the future.

Both are trying to transform staid industries that have been around for a long time.

Both are big users of capital.

Both face substantial regulatory barriers to their success.

–For TSLA, it’s the regulations in many states that prohibit a car manufacturer from selling its products direct to the consumer.  Instead, the carmaker has to use an independent dealer network.

–Because at present they generally have no ability to store power on-site, SCTY clients generally sell the power generated by their solar panels to the electric utilities and purchase power from the grid as they need it run their electrical devices.  Utilities would, naturally, like to buy at 2 and sell at 4.  Regulations, however, force them to trade both ways at the same price, but only so long as solar is a tiny percentage of their business.  In addition, electric utilities are the ones who inspect any local power storage batteries that a household/firm may install.  The utilities aren’t falling all over themselves rushing to do this.

I have small positions in both.

how they differ

Personally, I find SCTY the more conceptually interesting company.

On the other hand, I feel much more comfortable with TSLA.


It isn’t the industry or the capital structure.

It’s the gigantic battery factory that Musk is in the process of building.

Both TSLA and SCTY can be seen as different ways to create demand for highly sophisticated batteries.  Both are certainly radically dependent on having cutting-edge battery technology.  Arguably, batteries are the main source of value in the products of either firm.

But who owns the battery factory?  TSLA.  To me, this means that Elon Musk’s main economic interest likes in TSLA, not SCTY.  History says an investor wants to have his money in the same place as the entrepreneur he’s betting on.