Electric-vehicle stocks are Wall Street’s Wild West. EV stocks tracked by Barron’s are up more than 160% year to date, led by
—a maker of electric SUVs with onboard generators—rose 43% in its market debut Thursday.
There is no lack of volatility in the sector. Shares in battery- and fuel-cell powered truck maker
(ticker: NKLA), for instance, moved double-digit percentage points seven separate days in July, and shares dropped 56% in the month. Still, the stock is up more than 190% year to date.
All of this action is leaving Wall Street a little befuddled.
Most EV stocks now trade above analyst price targets. And those are the EV stocks followed by Wall Street analysts. Four EV companies worth more than $15 billion—including Li Auto (LI)—don’t even have analyst coverage yet.
Instead of raising or lowering stock prices and stock targets rapidly—something analysts are loath to do—they are writing worst-, base-, and best-case scenarios for EV stocks and leaving it up to investors to figure out what to do next.
Analysts, in other words, are sitting on the fence. Still, such scenario planning is a good idea for investors, especially traders. It can help them plan what to do no matter what happens, which is especially important in a sector like electric vehicles.
Nikola investors are in the midst of worst-case planning. Shares plunged after rising 135% in June. It now trades at $30. How bad can it get?
July-like declines for Nikola shares, which were catalyzed by warrant vesting, probably aren’t in the cards for a few months. Warrants give holders the right to buy stock at a discount—for $11.50 a share, in this case—and 24 million Nikola warrants became exercisable recently. Most of the warrant-related selling pressure is over now. Despite recent declines, Nikola stock is worth about $11 billion.
RBC analyst Joseph Spak’s worst-case scenario is $20 a share. Officially, he rates the stock the equivalent of Hold and has a $46 price target. Getting to $20 means Nikola didn’t hit his truck market share estimate he models in 2028.
But 2028 is a long way off. It illustrates a problem investors have with all EV startups. Nikola’s ultimate success or failure will be determined far in the future. That makes EV stocks, in the short run, very sensitive to changes in investor sentiment.
Nikola’s 56% correction was severe. It stalled out at around the stock’s 100-day moving average. The next stop on the worst-case train might be around $21 a share. That’s the stock’s 200-day moving average. It’s very close to Spak’s fundamental case.
Nikola reports earnings on Aug. 4. That’s the next catalyst for shares, up or down.
U.S.-listed EV stocks we track, excluding Tesla (TSLA), are worth some $30 billion, more than
(F). Include Tesla, and the number jumps to more than $300 billion.
Tesla, the sector behemoth, is valued at roughly $750,000 per vehicle delivered, or about 10 times as much as
(GM) on the same metric. What’s being discounted in Tesla stock, as well as shares of smaller EV makers, is higher and higher EV penetration of the light-vehicle market for years. Tesla stock trades at $1,430.76.
New Street Research analyst Pierre Ferragu has a $1,500 price target on Tesla and a Hold rating. It’s a good place to review the stock’s base case. He believes Tesla can sell two to three million cars by 2025, making it roughly the size of
(BMW.Germany), with better-than-industry growth extending past that year. That’s a good benchmark for what fundamental assumptions are reflected in the share price today.
But 2025, like 2029 in the case of Nikola, is far off. What drives Tesla higher next is better 2021 earnings. Tesla 2021 earnings estimates have gone from roughly $9 a share to $16 a share over the past year. At this point, with shares trading for 100 times estimated 2021 earnings, Tesla needs to keep beating Street estimates to maintain stock price momentum.
Wall Street’s best-case scenarios for Tesla stock discount a number of different things. Some see Tesla selling more than 10 million cars in the future. Others see Tesla selling full self-driving software and making EV powertrains for other auto makers. Still others see value in Tesla’s battery storage and solar business.
Over the short term, the best-case scenario for Tesla stock is a surge in buying after its inclusion in the S&P 500—something the stock qualified for after its recent quarterly profit.
Inclusion would lead to new buying by index funds, and more buying than selling drives up stocks. The question is: How much higher can it go? Tesla stock would be “overbought”—in Wall Street parlance—at around $1,700. That’s very rough math, but it’s a level where traders might decide to take profits.
An easier bull case is the one for electric commercial van maker
(WKHS). It’s bidding to replace 160,000 U.S. Postal Service vehicles. If it wins, shares—now at $15.52—will top $20 and perhaps approach the top Street target price of $27 set by Roth Capital’s Craig Irwin.
Losing the bid would hurt. Whatever happens, Workhorse stock, up more than 400% year to date, will stay volatile. So will shares of its EV peers.
Write to Al Root at email@example.com