March 29, 2018 / 10:00 PM / 8 months ago

Tesla shares recover as company pushes to hit Model 3 target

SAN FRANCISCO, March 29 (Reuters) - Tesla Inc shares rose on Thursday ahead of the expected release next week of the company's quarterly auto production data, while a senior executive urged workers at the automaker to hit a weekly production target of 2,500 Model 3 sedans by the end of March.

Quickly ramping up Model 3 production is crucial for the Silicon Valley electric vehicle maker. The company's profitability depends on delivering the new sedans to customers on a waiting list that Tesla has said now numbers about 500,000 advance reservation holders.

Tesla shares recovered to $266.13, up 3 percent, Thursday after a sell-off prompted by a Moody's debt downgrade and news that safety regulators are investigating a Model X-involved fatality.

In an email to employees viewed by Reuters, Tesla Senior Vice President of Engineering Doug Fields wrote that production of Tesla vehicles is "well into the 200’s on every single line."

Field gave reasons why Tesla needs to get to 2,500 vehicles a week, including: "There are an incredible number of people who 'short' Tesla stock, which means they profit when we fail. And lately the story is the same: 'Tesla can’t do high-volume production'. I find that personally insulting, and you should too. Let’s make them regret ever betting against us."

Tesla must "quickly break through the 300 cars/day barrier, and keep going," the email continued.

Tesla did not immediately comment on the email, which was previously reported by Bloomberg News.

Doubts that Tesla could meet its production targets and concerns about cash reserves were behind Moody's downgrade of Tesla last week. The ratings agency cited the likelihood of a new capital raise, which it estimated at over $2 billion, in part to cover approximately $1.2 billion in convertible bonds coming due by March 2019.

The downgrade, together with a fatality involving a Model X that is currently being investigated by safety regulators, sent shares down 12 percent for the week, even after Thursday's rebound. That made it Tesla's worst week in nine months.

Tesla shares are still above the $255.73 level, the price when Tesla last announced a capital raise in March last year to raise $1.15 billion.

Moody's and other analysts have predicted Tesla will soon have to sell more shares to replenish cash reserves and pay for expansion of Model 3 production and new vehicles such as the Tesla Semi electric commercial truck and a compact sport utility vehicle.

As of Dec. 31, Tesla had $3.4 billion in cash and securities. Moody's estimated approximately $500 million in cash was needed for normal operations and forecast cash burn this year of about $2 billion.

Beyond the $2 billion that Moody's predicted Tesla would seek in the near-term, it said the company would likely need to raise additional capital during the second half of 2019.

Chief Executive Elon Musk has promised to build 10,000 Model 3s per week by some point in 2018 after meeting a 5,000-per week target by the end of the second quarter. Tesla built only 2,425 Model 3s in its fourth quarter.

Barclays analyst Brian Johnson warned in a note to investors on Thursday that Tesla could engage in a Model 3 "burst rate" of production that could send shares up, but would not be sustainable. (Writing by Alexandria Sage and Joe White Edting by Tom Brown)

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