Are you exploiting the power of negativity to its fullest?

As if a hundred short sellers screamed in agony* and suddenly fell silent

-“funding secured”

(*actually not, rather they celebrated, knowing the endgame had finally arrived; since knowing the facts rather than a wishful narrative, they understood the action was the last desperate act of a fraudster at the end of his rope)


Topic: why all the negativity?

Discussion: investors are on balance long biased and thus need an opposing view for balance

Conclusion: more pessimism (almost) always leads to a more balanced view

Bonus: a little tip regarding perspective, productivity and happiness (asking past friends for advice)


With a little help from my (previous) friends

You know the 150 people you actually know? They aren’t the same as they were 10 years ago. If you’re serious in your quest for a fresh perspective on things, write an e-mail and ask for your advice from your old network (I got the idea from the book about networking effectively, that Anna Svahn is writing as we speak).

Tip: start by expressing some appreciation and if possible provide something of value. Givers are more successful than matchers and takers. And appreciative people are happier.


The curious case of the lone genius giga fraudster

Let’s forget for a while that Tesla is burning a billion dollars every three months (e.g., cash flow was -1.3 to -1.4bn in Q2), and that it’s effectively running out of money by the turn of the year, unless it manages to raise new capital by then. Nota Bene, this isn’t controversial; it’s a financial fact.

Tesla has over 10 billion dollars in debt. Tesla holds a billion dollars in client deposits. Tesla has a negative net working capital of 3 billion dollars, giver or take. Tesla has 1 billion in convertible debt maturity effectively coming up by the turn of the year. Tesla has at least half a billion of its cash reserves where it can’t be accessed. Anyway, let’s forget about money running out in just a few months, since that’s not really an issue of cash flow turns positive.

Let’s forget that even though sales have increased at an impressive rate, so have losses and executive compensation. These are indisputable financial facts. If anything, the numbers are artificially positive due to creative accounting, not least by under reserving for service costs.

Let’s also forget about the quality issues with hastily manufactured tent “lemons”. Let’s also forget about Tesla’s failed attempt at disrupting the “stealership” model, consequently leaving clients to deal with maintenance, repair and spare parts themselves.

Let’s forget about the super high death rate of Tesla drivers.

Let’s also forget about all the weird and lofty claims Elon Musk spouts every opportunity he gets. I’m thinking about new car models, trucks, pick-ups, solar house roofs, solar car roofs, bricks, 1 USD/trip super-mach intercity hyperloops etc., without the necessary factory investments.

Let’s also forget about the hundreds of former Tesla fans, witnessing about poor to non-existent service, about cars being paid for but not delivered, about deposits not being returned on demand, about suppliers not getting paid or are asked to pay money back (!)


Before: several years of a monopoly-like situation + subsidies = increasingly unprofitable

Now: serious competition (BMW, Porsche, Volvo, Jaguar, Audi…) + no subsidies => profits?


Chart by Tesla Charts


Build it and the profits will come

At this point let’s just think about one single thing, since profits and cash flows are what ultimately decide the fate of a company:

Some of the bullish analysts and bag holders of Tesla stock are counting on Tesla and Musk finally turning profitable now that its subsidies are ending and a tsunami of competition (with subsidies) is entering their market.

Wait, what? Wut? Hqr sez wut?

Yup, that’s right, that’s what’s coming now according to bulls. Elon Musk has never turned a profit in any of his companies. The last fifteen years, Tesla has only increasing losses to show for its efforts to exploit its supposed first mover advantage and massive subsidies. But, now, finally, with a deluge of formidable competitors, with as deep pockets as experience in building and testing cars, Tesla is supposed to somehow reap the benefits of… scale, competitive position, increased margins?

Not only that, just as the available market is about to fall by 90% in the coming years, Tesla’s subsidies are going away. Tell me again how that is supposed to finally push margins into positive territory.


OK, back to the fraudster

The bigger the lie, the easier to get away with it, and Tesla is about as big as they get, just like Theranos, Enron and Madoff before that. Or Nick Leeson and Jérôme Kerviel.

Many fraudsters start out with good intentions, probably Elon Musk too. However, as reality catches up with dreams, losses and mistakes have to be swept under the rug. “It’s just temporarily“, they think, “for the greater good in the long term“, they reason, and go on to make bigger and bolder bets to cover up their little mishaps.

An idea about luxury roadsters and other premium cars making profits, that finance investments in mass-market car manufacturing that’s supposed to make even greater profits, instead turn into ever increasing losses and thus the necessity for side-shows of acquisitions and unrealistic innovations.

At some point the well-intentioned and benevolent disruptor realizes his predicament and steps over the fraud line. The genius has now become a fraudster; and with increasing vitriol and intensity he attacks everyone who expresses the least bit of skepticism, while coming up with ever more fantastic claims about breakthroughs that are on an “order of magnitude” above and beyond anything previously seen. At this point the smart money knows the game is up and starts pointing it out, but it takes years (Enron, CDOs, Allied Capital), sometimes decades (Madoff), for the Ponzi scheme to collapse into the surprised and devastated hands of the bag holders.


This is not about Tesla, but about balance and perspective

Why all the negativity? Because almost everybody else has a positive bias. It takes effort and guts to find and relay negative information to a herd of stampeding bulls. Very few bother, since everybody seems to hold nothing but contempt for short sellers, including SEC officials (who famously like to interrogate whistle-blowers and short sellers rather than investigate the actual perpetrators).

It’s simply humans being humans when bullish investors turn a blind eye to all the obvious negative facts, and instead pat each others’ backs, repeating their faith based narrative, “obviously corroborated by the stock price (bro)”. It’s not really their fault. The problem actually lies with bears being too silent, passively allowing gullible bulls to be had for a ride. Humans are gullible by nature; we like a good story and we tend to positivity. We want to believe in stories bout heroes. We want to believe in seeing ourselves becoming rich, in particular if it’s by supporting a good cause at the same time. Fraudsters (whether by design or mistake) take advantage if that trait.

That’s why bears armed with facts are so important. They perform an almost invaluable service in their quest of fact finding and creating balance in the otherwise one-sided bullish narrative. Humans are lazy and blind to other stories than their own. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just our nature. But that’s exactly why the bears are needed: to create perspective, to catalyze questioning and to provide facts and arguments that can be directly measured against whatever the bull story is.


It’s currently the most important story there is

But why Tesla all the time? You keep ranting about Tesla; why the negativity?

It’s because it’s the biggest and simultaneously most obvious house of cards out there. It’s the most unbalanced narrative there is in public markets right now, in terms of the bull story being the least factful and the bear story being the most tangible. There’s almost a hundred billion dollars at stake, not to mention bag holders car owners that have or have not received their cars but stand to lose any kind of warranty, pre-payments or access to spare parts or super-chargers.


Quite often, bear stories are more qualitative than financial in nature, i.e., less numbers based and more speculative regarding troubles ahead. Not too rarely, very high valuations feature in bears’ short stories, although most smart bears know that’s nowhere near what’s needed for a successful short.

Not this time though. This time the bulls are the dreamers, and the bears don’t even need to start talking about the valuation, since Tesla’s money is actually running out (and with no plan for raising new).

No matter how much bloggers, podcasters and successful investors try to dig out the true foundations of the bull story in Tesla, they come up empty handed. It’s all narrative and hope that the lone genius, who so far has accomplished nothing, will soon magically wave his cave dildo, display his magic beans, and create actual profits.

Occam’s razor would long ago just have labelled Musk a fraudster rather than a genius, and all his actions would be all that much easier to explain.

A genius wouldn’t manufacture lemons and losses. A fraudster could. A genius wouldn’t fantasize about products he could never afford to build. A fraudster might as a cover-up. A genius wouldn’t put himself at the mercy of markets (no cash, negative flow). A fraudster would claim funding is secured (even if the claim might prove to be securities fraud). Would an environmentalist genius have five large Bel Air mansions and the biggest private jet there is (G650)? He could, but a fraudster fits the bill better. A genius maybe should have produced profits some time in his history. A fraudster wouldn’t see why. Finally, a genius wouldn’t pump up numbers in collaboration with his brother in an unrelated company and push his board into accepting a takeover at the very peak of that company’s business. A fraudster? Hell yeah!

This last bit is admittedly speculative, but the perspective is still important. No matter, the bull-genius narrative has only dreams, hopes and fantasies in its corner; while the bear-fraudster story is based on facts about sales, costs, profits, production numbers, quality reports, traffic statistics and not least a much more likely and coherent overall picture.


Market perspective

By the way, how’s this for perspective: imagine a private investor, an amateur with less than a decade under his market belt, doing all his research after his ordinary job hours, without any real insight in the inner workings of either the financial industry or that of the stocks he invest in. Imagine that same person thinking he understands more than, oh I don’t know, e.g., Mark Spiegel, David Einhorn, Jim Chanos…, and me.

I know, I know, I know… why would decades of profitably navigating several bull and bear markets, including investing on both the long and short side in hundreds if not thousands of individual companies, no less with the help of a solid financial education, actually having investing as full-time profession, supported by many, many competent co-workers and with access to dozens of the top financial research firms, ever stand a chance against a lone amateur? Or, er, wait a minute…

 

That’s not how herds operate

 

Maybe, just maybe, the unquestioning bulls need to be shaken out of their confirmation bias bubble and start listening to the fact-finding minority. Sure, we are guilty of CB too, but I’m sure all experienced bears make a true effort of mapping out the bull case in as much detail as humanly possible. The bulls? I’m not so sure, that’s not how herds typically behave.

How about you? Are you long or short Tesla, and have you queried the other side for their best arguments and pitched your own against them yet?

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6 Comments

  1. I’m curious why you see the Tesla bubble as a problem. Doesn’t it give you a chance to take an even more profitable short?

    Whoever did the calculations in the article you linked to does not know how to calculate confidence intervals.

    I can still imagine a scenario where Tesla’s final stock valuation is >0, although I don’t know if it’s realistic (I know little about bankruptcy laws). Suppose a sympathetic judge lets Tesla settle its debts at five cents on the dollar. Tesla stock falls to a single-digit price. At that point, it might be attractive for a major auto maker to buy it out, shut it down, and make Tesla their EV marque. But an essential ingredient is the sympathetic judge – Tesla would have to file for Capter 11 before Musk manages to incinerate his own halo, and before they are forced into Chapter 7 liquidation.

    • I agre on all you say in that comment. It’s actually very likely it doesn’t end up at zero
      Also, the Tesla bubble isn’t a problem, except if you’re long and ignorant

  2. Please share what should be done about it? Surely a hedge fund master must have thoughts on how and when to put on a short.

  3. Do you think Apple, Facebook or Amazon might purchase Tesla to get into the market and save Elon’s ass?

    • No.
      Well, OK, maybe yes AFTER the Ch 11 filing. At a price of cents on the dollar, i.e., -90-99% from here.

    • Chapter 11, restructuring, wiping out current equity holders, strike a deal with debt holders (make them new equity holders), fire Elon, hire automakers, hire a QUALITY MANAGEMENT expert, sell all irrelevant business lines, try to design and make cars with quality and performance at a price acceptale to customers and that are sold at a profit to Tesla (will prove difficult, since no major car company has been started and surviced in the US for a 100 years)

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