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Tesla Marks Improvements, Shares Take a Hit

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What a difference a quarter makes! In Q4 2013, electric car maker Tesla Motors (TSLA - Free Report) was a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) stock and destroyed earnings estimates by 250%. Today, when the company reported Q1 earnings after the bell, it missed on the bottom line dreadfully while it wallows at a Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell).

Revenues in the quarter were up better than expected: $713 million beat the $709 million we were looking for, and production and delivery numbers were higher than anticipated as well -- 7535 Model S cars were produced and 6457 delivered in the quarter, up from estimates of 7400 and 6400, respectively. Tesla said it is still on pace to make 35K cars for full year 2014.

So why is Tesla stock selling off more than 5% in the after-market? Well, earnings, for one thing. The Zacks Consensus Estimate was looking for a 10-cent per share loss in the quarter, and the company posted -16 cents (including stock-based compensation but accounting for a 24-cent dilution of shares; non-GAAP reported was a loss of 40 cents per share).

So it's tough to justify a $200 price tag and a P/E multiple of +50x earnings... in 2015. Sure, there's a lot CEO Elon Musk has planned to grow Tesla -- particularly in China, which seems to be progressing reasonably well at this stage, but a lot of this stuff was already priced in when the company blew the doors off Q4 expectations.

Gross margins in the quarter were also lower -- a percentage point down from the 28% expected. Everyone knows the costs of expanding are going to take a pretty big bite, too -- and here Tesla has spelled out a 30% sequential increase in research and development costs, and 15% more for SG&A. But if you're planning on making up to 9000 omelets in the quarter, that's going to require breaking quite a few dozen eggs.

Anyway, Tesla is also feeling the impact of the market-wide growth-stock takedown. In fact, Tesla shares didn't get hammered nearly as hard as growth stocks like Facebook (FB - Free Report) , Netflix (NFLX - Free Report) and so many others did in Q1. Even now with this slightly disappointing earnings report, Tesla's not exactly being taken out behind the woodshed. And don't expect things like a dividend yield or share buyback coming from Tesla anytime soon; this company's still got a lot of work ahead.

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