Tesla reports biggest-ever quarterly loss

Bernstein Tesla's Q4 Full OF 'Some Puts Some Takes'

CASH BURN: Tesla has lofty targets, including building a plant in China and launching a small SUV in 2020.

Yet even that, and an accompanying warning that spending on Tesla's electric auto production would rise this year, could not knock the company's fortunes for long. Tesla had originally planned to reach the target by the end of 2017, but has since moved the deadline twice.

Going into Tesla's (NASDAQ: TSLA) fourth quarter, one of the key items to watch was whether the electric-car company would still be on track with its most recently updated Model 3 production targets.

The company builds stationary lithium-ion battery storage for residences and utilities, it built 330 new Superchargers a year ago, and it just entered a new deal with South Australia to build a huge 250 MW virtual power plant. "I'm cautiously optimistic that we will actually be GAAP profitable with no asterisk".

Annually, billions of dollars worth of Tesla Model 3's are sold.

While it's going to take time to get Model 3 production to targeted levels, the chief executive officer of both Tesla and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has succeeded in captivating consumers in the meantime.

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Tesla expects to deliver about 100,000 Model S sedans and Model X sport utility vehicles, in line with last year's 101,312. Tesla will make significant changes in the wiring and battery architecture to make it easier to manufacture than Model 3.

Tesla spent $787 million in capital expenditures in the fourth quarter, below its projections, but said capital spending in 2018 would be "slightly more" than in 2017 due to expanded production at its Fremont factory and Nevada Gigafactory. Model X deliveries grew 28% year over year, according to the report.

Sales of the two vehicles will be limited by production constraints of its old 18650 battery form factor. But it fell woefully short on the Model 3, which went into production in July. With demand outpacing production, we plan to optimize the options mix in order to maximize gross margin. The company told analysts in a briefing call that it is set to make some capital investments towards the end of the year towards the next EV in the series, the Model Y.

Tesla also said it expects to begin generating positive quarterly operating income on a sustained basis "at some point in 2018", and that its rate of revenue growth in 2018 is "poised to significantly exceed last year's growth rate".

Shares of Tesla have fallen 10 percent from a 12-month high of $385 in September, but are up 10 percent from January. The big loss was still absorbed by the company and all is not lost just yet.

In addition, Tesla is targeting to "at least triple" its energy storage products sales this year. Indeed, management is forecasting a negative gross margin for Model 3 in Q1 even if Model 3 production really does exit the quarter at a rate of 2,500 units per week. It has 330 store and service locations worldwide.

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