February 3, 2020 / 4:48 PM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 3-Panasonic posts 1st quarterly profit in U.S. battery business with Tesla

* Follows years of production troubles, delays at U.S. partner

* Tesla reported second successive qtrly profit last week

* Panasonic cautious about further expansion in Tesla business

* Panasonic to set up Toyota JV in April (Adds Tesla share performance)

By Makiko Yamazaki

TOKYO, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Panasonic Corp reported the first quarterly profit in its U.S. battery business with Tesla Inc on Monday, after several years of production troubles and delays at the U.S. partner.

The news comes after the U.S. electric vehicle maker reported its second successive quarterly profit last week, as vehicle deliveries hit a record. Tesla also said it would comfortably make more than half a million units this year, pushing its shares to new highs.

Tesla's shares rose 10% on Monday to another record high of $719. Since the quarterly results on Jan. 29, the stock has gained almost 24%.

Tesla short-sellers have been on the receiving end of the stock's rally. Currently, almost 14% of its shares are shorted. Traders shorting Tesla have lost about $900 million in just the first two trading days of 2020, according to S3 Partners, a financial analytics firm.

Investment management firm Ark Invest, in a note dated Jan. 31, said it expects price target of the Tesla stock to hit $7,000 by 2024, citing gross margins as the star of the company's growth story.

"We are catching up as Tesla is quickly expanding production," Panasonic Chief Financial Officer Hirokazu Umeda told an earnings briefing, referring to battery cell production.

"Higher production volume is helping to push down materials costs and erase losses."

Panasonic first invested in Tesla in 2010 and announced its partnership in building the U.S. firm's Gigafactory plant in Nevada in 2014 as part of its strategic shift from low-margin consumer electronics to automotive components.

But as its $1.6 billion Gigafactory investment failed to produce solid returns, Panasonic has grown cautious about its battery business with Tesla.

It chose not to build a new battery plant for Tesla in China, ceding its battery cell monogamy as Tesla entered into a partnership with South Korea's LG Chem Ltd and China's CATL.

"We will focus on demand at Gigafactory for Model 3 and Model Y," Umeda said.

Panasonic is turning to Toyota Motor Corp for battery partnership, setting up a joint venture for electric vehicle (EV) batteries in April.

Panasonic said operating profit for the October-December quarter rose 3% to 100.4 billion yen ($915 million), beating analysts' estimates by 49%, thanks to the improvement at the Tesla battery business as well as cost cuts.

It maintained its profit forecast for the year through March at 300 billion yen, above an average estimate of 295.14 billion yen by 20 analysts. ($1=109.7000 yen) (Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Additional reporting by Kevin Buckland and Neha Malara; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Clarence Fernandez and Maju Samuel)

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