Tesla: When Just GAAP Revenues Are Not Enough, Unleash The Non-GAAP

Tyler Durden's picture

The reason why Tesla is soaring currently after hours, is because this momo story stock just unveiled the next chapter of its carefully spun story. To wit:

The first Model S deliveries to China are scheduled for this spring. We plan to make substantial investments in China this year as we add new stores, service centers and a Supercharger network. Already, the Beijing store is our largest and most active retail location in the world.

...

We expect to deliver over 35,000 Model S vehicles in 2014, representing a 55+% increase over 2013. Production is expected to increase from 600 cars/week presently to about 1,000 cars/week by end of the year as we expand our factory capacity and address supplier bottlenecks. Battery cell supply will continue to constrain our production in the first half of the year, but will improve significantly in the second half of 2014.

 

First quarter production is expected to be about 7,400 vehicles, which is significantly higher than the prior quarter production of 6,587 cars. However, as the number of cars in transit to Europe and Asia must grow substantially to support those markets, we plan to deliver approximately 6,400 vehicles in Q1. Deliveries will grow dramatically in future quarters as the logistics pipeline fills.

 

This year, we expect automotive gross margin to increase to about 28% (non-GAAP and GAAP) in Q4 through a series of small design improvements, better supplier prices and economies of scale. Q1 gross margin should increase very slightly from Q4. For the remainder of the year, gross margin should improve at a faster pace.

...

Very shortly, we will be ready to share more information about the Tesla Gigafactory. This will allow us to achieve a major reduction in the cost of our battery packs and accelerate the pace of battery innovation. Working in partnership with our suppliers, we plan to integrate precursor material, cell, module and pack production into one facility. With this facility, we feel highly confident of being able to create a compelling and affordable electric car in approximately three years. This will also allow us to address the solar power industry’s need for a massive volume of stationary battery packs.

In other words: lots of bleary-eyed optimism about the elimination of production bottlenecks in "the second half of 2014", about US consumers who will be undeterred by new and some would say far "cooler" competitive EV offerings by such brands as BMW, and instead keep buying a car which roughly every month has to fight another flaming car PR disaster in the media, and about the future in general. And of course - China, because other luxury retailers have been doing so great in the country in recent months.

It remains to be seen just how much of this "story" pans out. In the meantime, we focus on the topic we touched on in November, namely the company's desire to make up not only its EPS line as a non-GAAP line time (everyone else does it, so it must be ok), but that starting in Q2 2013, the company also announced non-GAAP revenues. Below are the thoughts of Bloomberg's Jon Weil which we paraphrased at the time:

Most companies that play the non-GAAP game goose their numbers by excluding expenses. Tesla does this, too. It backs out stock-based compensation, for example. But the biggest kick to its non-GAAP earnings comes from an increase in top-line revenue.

 

The company reported third-quarter non-GAAP revenue of $602.6 million, which was about 40 percent more than its GAAP revenue. It achieved such a boost by transforming $171.2 million of liabilities into sales.

 

Here’s how it worked. In April, Tesla started a new financing program under which customers have the option to sell their vehicles back to the company after three years for guaranteed minimum amounts. The accounting rules say Tesla can’t recognize all of the revenue immediately in those instances and must account for such transactions as leases. So after Tesla takes customers’ cash, it records liabilities for “deferred revenue” and “resale value guarantee” on its balance sheet.

 

Mahoney noted two main problems with including so much of those amounts in non-GAAP revenue. Some customers wouldn’t have chosen Tesla cars were it not for the financing program. So the non-GAAP revenue isn’t comparable to Tesla’s sales before the program began, and it may overstate the true growth and demand. Plus, by adding back the resale-value guarantee, the company “assumes that nobody is going to return the vehicle, for purposes of the non-GAAP revenue,” he said.

 

Lots of companies use gimmicky benchmarks in their earnings releases. What makes Tesla special is that it behaves as if it doesn’t know the proper way to present its non-GAAP numbers. In an ironic twist, two attorneys at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which helped take Tesla public in 2010, penned a lengthy article in 2008 explaining the legal requirements and best practices for earnings releases; it’s still on the law firm’s website.

 

GAAP comparison numbers in an earnings release must be set forth with equal or greater prominence to the non-GAAP numbers,” attorneys Steven Bochner and Richard Cameron Blake wrote. “For instance, if an issuer announces GAAP and non-GAAP earnings per share in its press release, it should report the GAAP earnings per share prior to the non-GAAP earnings per share.”

 

The bigger concern here should be what some investors call the “cockroach theory": Where there is one problem, there probably are more. Tesla has disclosed compliance failures before. In March, its management concluded that Tesla’s ‘‘internal control over financial reporting was ineffective as of Dec. 31, 2012.’’ Its auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, concurred. In a related matter, Tesla had to restate its cash-flow numbers for much of 2011 and 2012. In its latest quarterly report, filed last week, Tesla said its controls still weren’t effective as of Sept. 30.

And the conclusion:

None of these flubs has been especially damaging. Yet taken together, they suggest a company that lacks basic skills in accounting and disclosure, which could be a serious problem for a young manufacturer with a $17 billion stock-market value that loses money and trades for 9.5 times its revenue for the past four quarters. The next time Tesla messes up because of poor controls, the consequences could be worse.

 

As Tesla said in its latest annual report: ‘‘If we are unable to assert that our internal control over financial reporting is effective, or if our independent registered public accounting firm is unable to express an opinion on the effectiveness of our internal controls, we could lose investor confidence in the accuracy and completeness of our financial reports, which would have a material adverse effect on the price of our common stock.’’

So while everyone else focuses on the seemingly infinite upside that a company which in a priced to perfection world will deliver 35,000 Model S cars (10,000 less than the number of F-150s Ford sold in January) , we care more about far simpler, grassroots concepts. Like unfudged revenues and earnings.

Here they are.

Revenues:

 

EPS:

 

In summary: non-GAAP P/E of 259x, and GAAP P/E of Div/0, as GAAP Market Cap/Sales is a "conservative" 12.4x. Good luck with that growth. You are going to need it.