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特斯拉有没有未来?要看马斯克还能不能开这个“外挂”

Shawn Tully 2019年03月12日

特斯拉之所以能够有这样高的市值,其实在很大程度上取决于马斯克使用免费资本的能力。

埃隆·马斯克是一个特别会花别人的钱的人。

马斯克的飘忽不定是出了名的。他对汽车量产的预期改了又改,前一阵他还发推特称要将特斯拉私有化,后来却又把这话收回去了。业内不做展厅而是做网络营销的汽车厂商,估计也就只有特斯拉一家了。马斯克只有在一件事情上是坚定而执着的——筹免费的钱。在特斯拉用来生产汽车和电池的钱里,有很大一部分并非来自于债权人和股东,而是来自于自己的狂热顾客。比如顾客排队订车的订金、买车的预付款,还有无人驾驶软件的预付费用等等。

这几十亿美元是特斯拉的一个隐性优势。不过最重要的问题是,接下来几年,马克斯还能否继续以现在的效率花别人的钱。如果这笔钱干涸了,则要想获得新的资本,马斯克必然要付出融资成本,而这也必然会影响特斯拉远期的盈利能力。

特斯拉的现状

要评估特斯拉真正的盈利能力,有一个很好的指标可以作为参考,这就是经济增加值(EVA)。这个指标主要用来衡量股东所投入股本的“资本成本”,即股东将这笔钱投入到同等风险的其他股票或债券的机会成本。特斯拉被诟病的一个重要原因是它的生产消耗了巨量资本,这也由于它的工厂和供应商网络都是“吞金兽”。EVA是企业治理咨询公司ISS创造的一个指标,它的基本原理是:股东要想通过他们投资的股本得到回报,特斯拉的利润就必须超过最低程度的资本成本,它也是决定股东的投资是盈是亏的分界线。

根据EVA公式计算,2018年,特斯拉的税后运营利润是2.25亿美元。但在对资本支出进行评估后,股东的经济收益(即EVA)便跌至负9.88亿美元,相当于销售额的-4.7%。在全球前11大汽车厂商中,特斯拉的EVA利润仅排在第9位。唯一一家EVA为正值的车企是日本的斯巴鲁。

特斯拉怎样才能回报股东

EVA系统可以根据分析师的共识性预期,预测未来几年的销售额、利润率和其它关键数据。我们先来看看华尔街对特斯拉到2021年年底的预测,再带入一个被忽视的关键因素——特斯拉必须付出多少资本成本,以及它必须从顾客群中拿到多少“免费”资本。目前投资界普遍认为,未来三年,特斯拉的收益会非常抢眼。分析师的共识是,到2021年,特斯拉的销售额将比现在上涨90%,达到408亿美元。

如果特斯拉真的达到了这个目标,那么它的每车平均成本将大幅下降。对于汽车厂商而言,要提高利润,就要通过一个较高的固定资产基数,不断推高产量。去年随着Model 3产量的极速扩大,特斯拉的产品成本占销售额的比例从66%飙升至72%。最早提出EVA理念的ISS公司的一位高级顾问贝内特·斯图尔特认为:“特斯拉的车子加速很平稳,但它的业务却并不是这样。”

据分析师预测,到2021年,特斯拉的产品成本占销售收入的比例将下沉至67%。如果它的销售额真能达到400亿美元,那么特斯拉就可以打通供应链的“血栓”,前景十分光明。另一方面,特斯拉对经常性开支控制得很不错,去年,它的销售成本、综合开销及行政管理费用占销售收入的比重从20%下降到13%。由于经常有媒体给特斯拉作免费宣传,因此它每年在广告营销上的支出只有区区5000万美元。

特斯拉的盈利取决于能否维持无息资本融资能力

如果没有所谓的“交易融资”的巨大贡献,特斯拉的EVA数据看起来会糟糕得多。特斯拉从其客户群和其他渠道获取了大量现金,这些钱主要是各种产品和服务的预付款。比如光是排队购车的顾客就为特斯拉贡献了24亿美元的订金,由此也可见该品牌的火爆。另外,诸如软件更新、自动驾驶功能、超级充电网络等等也都是要收预付款的。另一个来源是它的车辆回购计划。特斯拉会提前预估回购成本,然后作为支出项计入损益表。当前,特斯拉还不需要拿出现金搞回购,因此这笔钱可以用来采购机器人,或者用于库存资产。

总的来说,去年,特斯拉使用了80亿美元的免费资本。而去年特斯拉的运营资本、工厂设备投资以及研发支出总计为244亿美元。也就是说,去年特斯拉花掉的近三分之一的钱是没有成本的。而如果这80亿美元也是股东和债权人投的钱,那它去年的EVA就会再下降60%,达到负16亿美元,相当于销售额的-7.4%。

因此,斯图尔特表示:“特斯拉未来的盈利能力,取决于它能继续使用多少免费资本。”展望2021年,如果特斯拉能将免费资本占总资本的比例保持在30%左右,则其323亿美元的总资本中只有226亿美元需要计算资本支出。在这种情况下,特斯拉的EVA约为正6亿美元左右,相当于销售额的1.5%。

特斯拉的盈利之路并不宽绰

即使要达到这样的盈利水平也是很不容易的。首先,特斯拉不太可能一直保持当前的免费资本比例。目前,来自于顾客以及其它来源的预付费用已经在下降了,较2015年的100亿美元有了较大幅度的缩水。虽然特斯拉仍然在收取更多的订金、交车服务费和质保费用,但随着维修回购支出逐年增多,免费资本的收支差距越来越小将成为必然的事实。如果所谓的“交易融资”占总资本的比重降至10%以下,仅这一趋势就会让特斯拉的EVA在2021年下降为零。

第二大风险,是特斯拉的销售没有达到炙手可热的地步,降低每车成本的目标也自然无法实现。不过从特斯拉的市值已经被炒到500亿美元来看,股东们对这个问题似乎并不担心。华尔街似乎也没有人意识到,特斯拉之所以能有这样高的市值,其实很大程度上取决于马斯克使用免费资本的能力。但特斯拉的这个“外挂”很可能无法一直开下去。(财富中文网)

译者:朴成奎

Elon Musk is a genius at using other people’s money.

The Tesla founder is notorious for erratic driving, whether it’s changing forecasts for vehicle production, tweeting then retreating about going private, or veering from showroom to web-focused selling. But Musk has stayed perfectly on course in pursuing a golden prize: raising cost-free funding. Musk is getting a huge portion of the cash that Tesla uses to produce cars and batteries not from lenders and shareholders, but from its own fanatically loyal customers in everything from wait-in-line deposits to pre-paid warranties to advances for self-driving software.

Those billions are a stealth advantage for Tesla. The overriding question is whether Musk will be able to keep deploying OPM (other people’s money) at anything like the current rate in the years to come, and if not, whether the necessity of actually “paying” for many billions in new capital will sink any chance for future profitability.

WHERE TESLA STANDS NOW

One of the best measures of Tesla’s true profitability is EVA, or economic value added. The yardstick applies a “capital charge” for the equity that shareholders have invested in the business, a fee equivalent to what they’d gain from equally risky stocks or bonds. Tesla is much criticized for piling on capital to ramp up production, in part to compensate for an creaky network of plants and suppliers. EVA––the methodology is now owned by governance advisory firm ISS––sets a simple benchmark for success: To reward shareholders, Tesla must generate profits over and above the minimum capital charge that sets the dividing line between creating and destroying shareholder value.

In 2018, Tesla posted after-tax operating profits, using the EVA formula, of $225 million. But after assessing a capital charge, its economic earnings for shareholders, its EVA, dropped to a negative $988 million, or -4.7% of sales. Among the world’s 11 largest carmakers, Tesla placed a poor 9th in EVA margin. It’s a tough business: The only manufacturer that delivered positive EVA was Subaru of Japan.

WHAT TESLA MUST DO TO REWARD SHAREHOLDERS

The EVA system forecasts sales, margins and other key numbers for future years, based on analysts’ consensus projections. Let’s look at what Wall Street expects Tesla to achieve by year-end 2021, then layer on the crucial, mostly overlooked element: How much capital it will have to effectively pay for versus the hoard it will keep getting for “free.” The investment community is expecting heroic gains over the next three years. For 2021, the consensus calls for sales to jump 90% to $40.8 billion.

If Tesla hits that mark, it’s likely that costs per vehicle will drop substantially. For carmakers, raising profits is all about driving ever larger volumes through a high fixed cost asset base. Last year, Tesla’s cost-of-goods ballooned from 66% to 72% of sales as it cast caution to the speedway shoulder in a frantic campaign to swell production of the Model 3. “Tesla’s cars accelerate smoothly, its business does not,” says Bennett Stewart, a senior advisor to ISS who pioneered the EVA concept.

Analysts predict that COGS will fall to 67% of revenues by 2021. If sales do reach $40 billion, and Tesla can work out the kinks in its unwieldy supply chain, it stands a decent chance getting there. Another plus: Tesla’s done a good job on overhead, lowering SG&A from 20% to 13% of revenues in the past year. Tesla also generates loads of excitement from free press coverage, so it gets away with spending a minuscule $50 million a year on advertising and promotion.

TESLA’S PROFITABILITY WILL DEPEND ON HOW MUCH FREE FUNDING IT MAINTAINS

Tesla’s EVA numbers would look much worse without a gigantic contribution from what’s called “trade funding.” Tesla is amassing the cash from customers and other sources in half-a-dozen categories, mainly for future services or purchases. Tesla has collected $2.4 billion in deposits from folks waiting in line for their made-to-order vehicles, a tribute to the hotness of the brand. Cash is also flowing in from upfront payments for such to-be-delivered services as software updates, Autopilot features, and access to the supercharger network. Tesla also collects warranty fees built into the price of the car today for repairs due in the future. Another fount: its guaranteed car repurchase program. Tesla estimates what the buybacks will cost in future years, and takes those amounts as an expense on its income statement. For now, it doesn’t have to lay out the cash, so it can channel the funds to buy robots or finance inventories.

All told, Tesla used $8 billion of OPM last year, amounting to around one-third of the entire $24.4 billion in working capital, plants, equipment and that capitalized research spending that EVA puts on the books, used to produce its cars. Had Tesla raised that extra $8 billion from shareholders and creditors, its EVA last year would have been 60% worse at a negative $1.6 billion, or -7.4% of sales.

“Tesla’s future profitability depends on how much OPM it keeps getting to use,” says Stewart. Looking forward to 2021, if Tesla manages to hold the share of total capital constant at around 30%, it would be assessed an EVA charge on only $22.6 billion of its forecast total capital of $32.3 billion. In that instance, Tesla would generate positive EVA of around $600 million, equivalent to 1.5% of sales.

TESLA’S PATH TO PROFITABILITY IS NARROW

Even reaching that modest number will be a stretch. It’s unlikely that Tesla will continue attracting that share of its total capital free of charge. Advances from customers, as well as other sources, are already falling, shrinking from $10 billion in 2015. Still, Tesla is now collecting much more in warrantee fees, service packages for future delivery, and pre-expensed warrantee costs than its putting out in cash. But each year, that gap will shrink as the carmaker lays of funds for repairs and repurchases of cars. If trade funding falls to 10% of total capital, that trend alone would reduce EVA to zero in 2021.

The second big risk is that Tesla fails to keep sales on the ultra-fast track, so that the economies needed to lower costs per vehicle don’t materialize. Consider that shareholders are shrugging off these unknowns by awarding Tesla a market cap of $50 billion. Few on Wall Street recognize that Musk’s skill at using OPM accounts for a big part of that valuation. It’s the supercharger that may not last.

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