Tesla posts record quarterly profit amid challenges, offers sunny outlook

Tesla posts record quarterly profit amid challenges, offers sunny outlook

Tesla says it expects to make 1.8 million vehicles in 2023, with ‘potential’ for 2 million; demand concerns should be ‘put to rest,’ Musk says

Tesla Inc. late Wednesday reported mixed quarterly results, with revenue slightly below Wall Street expectations, but injected some optimism in its production outlook for 2023 and promised to rein in costs faster.

Demand is not a problem, Chief Executive Elon Musk said in a call with analysts after results. “I want to put that concern to rest,” he said, adding that January orders are stronger than ever, and demand far outstrips Tesla’s rate of production.

“We think demand will be good despite probably a contraction in the automotive market as whole,” Musk said, going on to say that Tesla’s recent price cuts are expected to make a difference for people.

Tesla TSLA, +0.38% shares rallied more than 5% in the extended session, gathering steam as the call continued.

Tesla’s results “were better than we expected,” said Bill Selesky, an analyst with Argus Research. Automotive gross margins declined modestly from last year, but the company will be able to push them higher in the quarters ahead, he said. “Overall, we see estimates rising for this year and next.”

The company also said a “next generation” vehicle platform is in the wings, promising more details at its investor day on March 1, and Musk called for volume production of the Cybertruck in 2024.

Tesla earned $3.69 billion, or $1.07 a share, in the fourth quarter, compared with $2.3 billion, or 68 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Adjusted for one-time items, Tesla earned $1.19 a share.

Revenue jumped 37% to $24.32 billion, from $17.7 billion a year ago. The company said both the quarterly revenue and profit were records.

Analysts polled by FactSet expected the EV maker to report adjusted earnings of $1.13 on revenue of $24.67 billion.

As for its outlook, Tesla kept more or less intact the same language it had for several past quarters, with a crucial difference.

Tesla said it plans to grow its manufacturing capacity “as quickly as possible,” about 50% average annual growth over a “multi-year horizon” in deliveries.

For 2023, however, it expected to “remain ahead” of that long-term goal and reach 1.8 million vehicles a year. The EV maker produced 1.37 million vehicles in 2022, up 47% from 2021 production.

Growth of 50% this year on top of 1.37 million would be about 2 million vehicles produced, but Tesla did not make clear in the letter which numbers investors should expect.

On the call, Musk said that Tesla’s intention in the letter was to be cautious, given potential problems beyond Tesla’s control.

If it’s a “smooth” year without major supply disruptions, “we have the potential to make 2 million cars this year. We’re not committing to that, but I’m just saying that’s the potential,” Musk told analysts. “And I think there will be demand for that too.”

Tesla’s bitcoin holdings were unchanged.

Tesla said was producing 3,000 Model Y compact SUVs a week at its Austin, Texas, factory by the end of its fourth quarter, and tooling at the Texas factory for the Cybertruck, an all-electric pickup, has started.

The pickup is on schedule to start production later this year, the company added. On the call, Musk said the vehicle “will be the car I drive every day” and pegged the start of volume production for 2024.

Tesla shares have lost 53% in the last 12 months, compared with losses of 8% for the S&P 500 index SPX, -0.02%.

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