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The Ratings Game: Tesla isn’t immune to a spending slowdown, Morgan Stanley says while cutting price target

One Tesla Inc. bull is feeling a little less bullish Monday, as he digests the outlook for the electric-vehicle company.

Tesla’s
TSLA,
-1.49%

latest earnings surprised Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas, who deemed the company’s Wednesday afternoon report to be “stronger and higher quality” than he expected. While Jonas was anticipating that the company would fall short of the consensus view amid potential input-cost inflation and other issues, “this didn’t happen,” and Tesla’s management went on to give a “rather bullish outlook” for the fourth quarter and beyond.

That said, Jonas still wants to bake in some caution. He reduced his price target on Tesla shares to $330 from $350 Monday, though he reiterated an outperform rating on the stock.

The change comes as Jonas looks to “make room for unexpected headwinds” in the current economic environment.

“For example, we want to allow for a greater margin of safety in terms of supply chain, as well as incremental pressures from foreign-exchange headwinds, input cost inflation, startup costs and, to some degree, demand destruction,” Jonas wrote.

Jonas added that while many of his clients “do not believe Tesla is vulnerable to a slowing consumer due to the company’s unique position” in the market for electric vehicles as well as a “general lack of supply,” he “fundamentally” disagrees. In his view, Tesla’s “increasingly large size today” is one factor that makes the company potentially “susceptible to what could be some profound swings in consumer strength and EV affordability.”

He also responded to Tesla’s recent price cuts in China, which he thinks could “affect already weak market sentiment.”

“We estimate Tesla generates as much as one-half of its profitability from the Chinese market, arguably making the stock a derivative of a Chinese tech stock,” he continued. Tesla is set to become gradually less dependent on China as he looks toward 2030, but a transition of the business mix “takes time.”

Don’t miss: Tesla stock falls, but these bulls aren’t sweating vehicle price cuts in China

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk teased the possibility of a buyback on Tesla’s last earnings call, but Jonas isn’t sure that would be the right move.

“For Tesla specifically, we are less than enthusiastic about share buybacks given the other growth opportunities we believe the company has at its disposal and the importance of building up cash reserves to maintain a self-financing status throughout a range of uncertain economic environments,” he wrote.

Nonetheless, Jonas remains bullish on Tesla, noting that he sees the name as a “core holding.” His overweight stance reflects the possibility that Tesla can “leverage its cost leadership in EVs to aggressively expand its user base and over time generate a higher [percentage] of revenue from recurring/high-margin software & services.”

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