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Can Elon Musk juggle Tesla out of debt?

Can Elon Musk juggle Tesla out of debt?
[Photo: Alex Iby/Unsplash]

Tesla missed earnings estimates today as concerns grow that the company will not be able to pay off its debts. The company delivered earnings of $1.93 on revenue of $7.2 billion. Analysts expected average earnings of $2.19 on revenue of $7.07 billion.

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The overall earnings statement focuses on the positive. “In the second half of 2018, our cash position improved by $1.45 billion despite the scheduled repayment of a $230 million convertible bond in Q4. We have sufficient cash on hand to comfortably settle in cash our convertible bond that will mature in March 2019,” it reads. Tesla also notes that it sold nearly 140,000 Model 3 cars in 2018 and has ended the quarter with $910 million in free cash flow.

But Tesla has been doing a lot of financial juggling of late. Earlier in January, Tesla announced it would cut 7% of its workforce and discontinue the 75 kwh battery pack for its Model S and X vehicles. The changes came as tax subsidies for its electric vehicles were scheduled to halve to $3,750. Tesla, in turn, said it would cut $2,000 off the price of the Models S, X, and 3. But by getting rid of the 75 kwh battery pack, it is essentially raising the basement on its lowest-priced models.

Meanwhile, the long promised, affordably priced $35,000 Model 3 is nowhere to be seen. (Tesla is also ending its referral program at the end of January—sorry, you can no longer get your picture etched in glass and shot into space for sending Tesla new customers.) Some have started to question whether Tesla can shift away from being solely a luxury car brand.

While Tesla is keeping all the balls in the air, investors are still concerned the company will not be able to pay off the $920 million debt it owes by March 1.

Furthermore, as Tesla has tried to ramp up production and revenues, there have been questions about how well its operations are functioning. In the last year there have been production issues, which Musk has referred to as “production hell,” and reports of poor worker treatment.

Customers are apparently feeling the pain, too. At today’s earnings call, Musk will be taking questions from regular investors via an online forum. So far, the top voted question from the submission page asks: “Owners, many of them with large followings online, are becoming very vocal about Tesla’s worsening customer service experience with delivery, service, and repair. This has a severe impact on sales and returning sales. What are you doing to change this growing negative reputation?”

Over the last year, Tesla’s stock price has fluctuated widely between roughly $250 and $380 per share. In after-hours trades on Wednesday, the stock dropped nearly 2%.

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