Tesla may be about to lose a key group of investors that have stuck with the struggling stock

Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., speaks during an unveiling event for the Tesla Model Y crossover electric vehicle in Hawthorne, California, U.S., on Friday, March 15, 2019.

Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Tesla‘s recent move to raise cash may quiet down its skeptics. Yet Elon Musk has given them new ammo as he shifts his focus to autonomous vehicles — which pushes out the automaker’s path to profitability even further.

Musk last week tapped Wall Street to raise $2.7 billion in stock and bond offerings, which sparked a relief rally in its stock that had been struggling amid disappointing production and the company’s legal woes.

But on an investor call hosted by the deal’s underwriters, Musk changed his tune, talking up Tesla’s self-driving strategy right off the bat, confidently saying autonomous driving will transform Tesla into a company with a $500 billion market cap.

“Case for a trillion-dollar market cap used to center around high-volume, high-profit auto sales … now it’s all in on autonomy,” Barclays autos analyst Brian Johnson said in a note Tuesday. “Tesla [is] apparently pivoting from auto profits to autonomy profits.”

The pivot to autonomy now means growth investors will have to wait around even longer for any payoff, Johnson notes. The so-called rational bulls, typically large institutional investors with a growth mandate, believed that “Tesla will be a multi-product automaker in the next five to seven years with its light vehicle lineup,” Johnson said.

Now that’s changed.

Shares of Tesla surged more than 4% the day the company announced its the stock and bond offering, and they jumped another 4% a day later when Tesla decided to upsize the deal to $2.7 billion from $2.3 billion as the offering eased the concerns about the company’s liquidity and financing. Tesla’s stock is still down more than 24% this year.

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Musk first touted the idea of robotaxis on the company’s investor day on April 22, saying Tesla would be able to offer robotaxis next year and it will be making cars with no steering wheels or pedals in two years.

Barclays rates Tesla at underweight and has a 12-month price target of $192, which would represent a 25% loss based on Monday’s close of $255.

“We believe the appeal of Tesla shares to growth investors may fade,” Johnson said. “Some of the rational bulls may need to reassess the idea that Tesla will become a profitable auto market.”

— With reporting by Michael Bloom

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