Live

Watch CBSN Live

Tesla stock-price woes cost the company a third of its cash hoard last quarter

Judge urges Elon Musk & SEC to settle dispute

Not so long ago, Tesla expected to turn a profit this quarter. That's no longer the case, and the electric-car maker's downhill slide with investors is a part of the reason.

After starting the year with its shares priced above $350 each, Tesla shares have since fallen 21 percent. Elon Musk's unconventional approach has arguably taken a toll, as the CEO's tweeting habit drew negative attention from U.S. regulators and Warren Buffett

That decline, which has Tesla currently trading around $260 a share, wiped out nearly a third of the $3 billion in cash that Tesla reported holding at the end of its September quarter. That's due to the March 1 expiration of $920 million in convertible senior notes, which Tesla had to repay in cash so long as its shares remained below the conversion price of $359.87 a share.

The shrinking cash scenario will likely have Wall Street investors focused on balance sheet issues and financial technicalities when Tesla releases it first-quarter earnings after Wednesday's close, according to Ben Kallo, an analyst with Baird Equity Research. 

The results "might disappoint following the convert repayment and working capital headwinds," noted Kallo, who is nonetheless optimistic about the company and the future direction of its shares."Tesla has indicated it ended the quarter with sufficient cash on hand, though a lower-than-expected cash number could stoke questions over the need for a capital raise," he added.

Potential hazards to Tesla and its stock include "management actions and Elon Musk in particular, who in our view is both the company's greatest asset and risk," offered Garrett Nelson, an analyst at CFRA. Musk has drawn attention and even legal scrutiny in the past year for hijinks that included appearing to smoke marijuana during the recording of a podcast to tweeting a false statement to the public that Tesla would be taken private at $420 a share.   

Tesla shares drop after Elon Musk appears to smoke marijuana

"We think Tesla's sequential cash burn will be one of the focal points of the earnings release, and has the potential to escalate balance sheet and liquidity concerns," Nelson said in an email. "Disappointing first-quarter cash-flow generation combined with the convertible note repayment and Chinese financing agreements reached in March are likely to result in a significant increase in net debt, from our perspective."

In the past, Tesla has said it expected to be cash-flow positive in each quarter after the first three months of this year. Musk, however, has changed that tune, and is now targeting a "cash-flow neutra"l status as the electric-car maker builds a fleet of self-driving vehicles for his planned ride-sharing network. 

"I feel very confident predicting autonomous robotaxis for Tesla next year," Musk told an investor's event Monday in Palo Alto, California. The CEO, known for making rather bold forecasts, said he expects a million Teslas equipped to drive without human help to be on the road by mid-2020

"Between now and when the robotaxis are fully deployed throughout the world, the sensible thing for us is to maximize the number of autonomous units made and drive the company toward cash-flow neutral," Musk told an investor's day event. "Once the robotaxi fleet is active, I would expect to be extremely cash-flow positive."

Musk has long tied the success of his company to its abilities to bring an affordable Model 3 sedan to the mass market. Tesla earlier this month halted online sales of its base $35,000 Model 3, and said those leasing the Model 3 won't be able to ultimately purchase it, as leased cars are earmarked for Tesla's network.

View CBS News In