Tesla Says It’ll Spend Billions On Growth And Maybe Also Elon Musk

Tesla Says It’ll Spend Billions On Growth And Maybe Also Elon Musk

Tesla has been on a bit of a run in the past several months, defying expectations that the pandemic might slow it down. Tesla’s to-do list now contains just a few items. Mainly: Make better batteries and expand as fast as possible.

That means finishing its Berlin plant and getting its Austin, Texas plant up and running, both of which Tesla hopes to happen by next year. Whereas Tesla previously had been spending money on the development of its cars, it will now do that in addition to spending buckets of money on scaling up its manufacturing and battery development, up to $US15.5 ($22) billion over the next few years.

From a Tesla SEC filing this week:

We are simultaneously ramping new products in Model Y and Solar Roof, constructing manufacturing facilities on three continents and piloting the development and manufacture of new battery cell technologies, and the pace of our capital spend may vary depending on overall priority among projects, the pace at which we meet milestones, production adjustments to and among our various products, increased capital efficiencies, and the addition of new projects. Owing and subject to the foregoing as well as the pipeline of announced projects under development and all other continuing infrastructure growth, we currently expect our capital expenditures to be at the high end of our range of $US2.5 ($4) to $US3.5 ($5) billion in 2020 and increase to $US4.5 ($6) to $US6.0 ($8) billion in each of the next two fiscal years.

Tesla has said that it will deliver the Semi next year, which sounds dubious since that will be built in Texas and Tesla just broke ground on the plant there in August, but there is some reason to believe them, in that Tesla got its Shanghai plant up and running in about a year’s time. Further, CEO Elon Musk has said production will just be a trickle in the beginning; it sounds very much like Tesla could pump out a very small number of Semis out next year and then do the real scaling up of Berlin and Austin in 2022.

Speaking of Elon, Tesla’s recent run on the stock market has been very, very good for him. From that same SEC filing:

During the three months ended September 30, 2020, the second and third tranches of the 2018 CEO Performance Award vested upon certification by the Board of Directors that the market capitalisation milestones of $US150.0 ($210) billion and $US200 ($280).0 ($280) billion and the operational milestones of annualized Adjusted EBITDA of $US1.5 ($2) billion and annualized Adjusted EBITDA of $US3.0 ($4) billion had been achieved. Therefore, the remaining unamortized expense of $US95 ($133) million and $US118 ($165) million associated with the second and third tranches, respectively, which were previously expected to be recognised ratably in future quarters through the first quarter of 2022 as determined on the grant date for the second market capitalisation milestone period and through the first quarter of 2023 as determined on the grant date for the third market capitalisation milestone period, were accelerated into the third quarter of 2020. Additionally, the operational milestone of annualized Adjusted EBITDA of $US6.0 ($8) billion became probable of being achieved during the third quarter of 2020 and consequently, we recognised a catch-up expense of $US77 ($108) million in that quarter.

In October 2020, the market capitalisation milestone of $US250.0 ($350) billion was achieved, and the operational milestone of annualized Adjusted EBITDA of $US4.5 ($6) billion will be achieved as of the date of issuance of this Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q. Accordingly, the fourth tranche of the 2018 CEO Performance Award will vest upon certification by the Board of Directors that such milestones have been achieved. Therefore, we expect that the remaining unamortized expense of $US122 ($171) million associated with the fourth market capitalisation milestone period, which was previously expected to be recognised ratably in future quarters through the third quarter of 2023 as determined on the grant date, will be accelerated into the fourth quarter of 2020.

With the second, third, and fourth tranches, according to Bloomberg, the options awarded to Musk now are worth $US11.8 ($17) billion, which is a big number. But I’ve written previously about how these tranches of stock options are a little complicated, and it’ll be years before Elon can cash in on them in any case. Tesla, meanwhile, has to keep getting bigger for Elon to collect the rest of his options on the table. Like, a lot bigger, with revenue of nearly $US200 ($280) billion on an annualised basis, or eight times what it took in in 2019.

Here is a table with the revenue and earnings targets to unlock further options for Musk:

Screenshot: Tesla

For Tesla to achieve those goals, the Cybertruck and Semi both need to be hits and the Model 3 and Y need to sell even more. And even that may not be enough to achieve the loftiest of the milestones. Nothing is a given, of course, but until there’s a major stumble for Tesla there’s no reason to think Tesla won’t get to some of them eventually, for now, with all the usual caveats, the company remaining a Rorschach test as ever.