Cash, demand concerns overshadow Tesla's SUV launch

(Reuters) - Shares of Tesla Inc fell nearly 5 percent on Friday, as investors wondered if its unveiling of an electric sports utility vehicle would add to pressure on cash flow, while analysts worried the carmaker was not addressing slowing demand for other models.

Tesla, which introduced a cheap $35,000 version of its Model 3 sedan last month and is struggling to convince backers its business model works, on Thursday launched the "Model Y" compact SUV - built on the same platform as the Model 3.

"It seems to be another distraction tactic presenting a new model and (to) divert from the problems with the other cars, the production and the profitability," NORD/LB analyst Frank Schwope said.

None of the 30 analysts who cover Tesla cut their price targets or recommendations for its shares, but the slightly bleak response to the new launch underlines the ambivalence of some on Wall Street to the company after months of legal wrangling and social media outbursts by Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk.

Some Wall Street analysts had raised concerns that demand for the higher-priced Model 3 was slowing down in the United States, especially after a reduction in the federal tax credit this year.

"We believe that Tesla's original business model for the production and profitability of the 'affordable' $35,000 version of the Model 3 is proving to be very difficult to achieve," ratings firm Moody's wrote in a research note.

The launch of the Model Y also reignited worries that Tesla would need to raise cash sooner than later.

Two Tesla analysts, both known as Tesla bulls - Gene Munster from Loup Ventures and Ivan Fienseth from Tigress Financial Partners - said the company would likely need to raise money later this year.

Cowen & Co's Jeffrey Osborne, who has an "underperform" rating on the stock, also agreed.

"We believe the event was more of a capital raising effort and branding exercise," Osborne said in a client note. "We do not see the new Model Y igniting elevated demand or enthusiasm for the Tesla brand."

Tesla said it would debut a long-range Model Y next year with a range of 300 miles (482 km), priced at $47,000, as well as a standard version, priced at $39,000, in 2021.

Tesla has been cutting jobs and closing stores in a bid to make profits and expects a loss in the first quarter.

Shares of the company were down at $276.06 in afternoon trading.

(Reporting by Sonam Rai in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham and Arun Koyyur)

03/15/2019 13:37

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