Focus on Tesla funding is ‘missing the forest for the trees’

Tesla founder Elon Musk has ruffled a few feathers in claiming he has “funding secured” to take the electric car maker private, but one analyst says ignore the “sideshow” and stick to the business fundamentals.

“We’re missing the forest for the trees a little bit here,” James Albertine, senior auto analyst at Consumer Edge Research, said Monday on CNBC’s “Power Lunch.” “I know Elon is a headline a minute, but at the end of the day, I think, tracking profitability was what we were focused on before, it’s what we’re still focused on, it’s what drives the stock.”

Tesla has faced widespread scrutiny in the week since Musk tweeted that he was planning to take Tesla private when the stock reached $420 per share and that he had “funding secured.” The SEC reportedly intensified inquiries into Tesla based on Tuesday’s tweet, which may have violated a rule that prohibits publicly traded companies from announcing plans to buy or sell securities if executives don’t intend to follow through. In a blog post published Monday, Musk attempted to clarify that his claim about secured funding was based on repeated and ongoing conversations with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.

Shares of Tesla fluctuated throughout the day and closed out the session up 0.26 percent at $356.41.

Albertine was not overly concerned about whether funding exists to take Tesla private. He argued the market “obviously doesn’t believe” Tesla shares will reach $420 per share, so it is important to instead focus on “Model 3 deliveries, tracking the profitability in the third quarter, cash flow positive in the back half of this year.”

Whether Musk is critical to Tesla’s success, however, is no longer clear, Albertine said.

“All he’s really doing, on some level, is arguing against his relevance at the company. The company is still ramping production, they’re still ramping toward productivity, irrespective of what he’s tweeting,” Albertine said.

“There’s a lot of really smart people behind Elon, and if anything, he is making a case, unfortunately, for the board or for large shareholders to say, ‘Maybe he is not as critical to the day-to-day, and maybe he is more of a liability,'” Albertine said.

Billionaire investor Mark Cuban took the opposite stance on Monday, defending Musk’s personality as just part of the package when investing in Tesla.

“Elon is quite the entrepreneur,” Cuban told CNBC in a “Fast Money Halftime Report” interview. “How can you expect anything different?”

“If you don’t think it’s right, buy another stock,” Cuban added.

Funding or not, Albertine said the company would have to check plenty of boxes for this type of transaction to go through — performing due diligence, convening investment committees and assessing risk — which could take “a significant amount of time.”

“I find it hard to believe that this deal would get done without them demonstrating profitability,” he said.

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