Musk wins pay approval but still faces Tesla’s floundering stock and rich valuation

By Noel Randewich

(Reuters) – Tesla shareholders approved CEO Elon Musk’s $56 billion pay package in a what was seen as an endorsement of his leadership, but the electric car maker’s stock remains richly valued even after several years of weakness in shares.

Shareholders at Tesla’s annual general meeting on Thursday re-approved Musk’s 2018 record-setting compensation that backers said is necessary to keep the billionaire focused on the car company.

While Musk could still face a long legal fight to convince a Delaware judge who invalidated the pay package in January, Tesla’s stock rose nearly 3% on Thursday ahead of the meeting after Musk posted on his social media platform X that he had won shareholder approval.

Even after Thursday’s gains, Tesla’s shares have tumbled 27% this year, and its market value has been more than halved to $582 billion from its November 2021 high as Tesla faces fierce competition in China from BYD and other EV makers selling less-expensive cars. 

Tesla’s shares received a badly needed boost after Musk said on April 23 that Tesla would release more affordable new models in 2025. Its quarterly revenue fell for the first time since 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hampered production and deliveries.

In the meantime, Wall Street’s other tech heavyweights have soared. Amazon and Alphabet have each gained over 20% in 2024, Meta Platforms surged more than 40% and Nvidia has nearly tripled. Tesla’s stock market value has also been overtaken by Eli Lilly and Broadcom.     

Analysts’ optimism for Tesla has cooled dramatically. The average analyst price target for Tesla is now $181, down from $226 at the start of 2024, and just a shade below Thursday’s closing price of $182.47, according to LSEG.

Musk has told investors they should view Tesla as an “AI robotics company” rather than a car maker, and its stock has long traded at earnings multiples higher than many technology companies as well. 

Tesla shares are priced near 61 times expected earnings, up from about 22 in January, though that is far below a price-to-earnings ratio of 150 reached in November 2021.

By comparison, General Motors and Ford Motor are trading at forward PE multiples of 5 and 6, respectively, while Toyota is trading at 9 times expected earnings, according to LSEG.

In another reflection of Tesla’s high valuation relative to its business, Tesla’s stock market value is equivalent to almost $6 million per employee, down slightly from two years ago, but still almost 20 times higher than GM and Ford, which each have about $300,000 in market value per employee.  

Unlike GM and Ford, part of Tesla’s employee base works at service centers around the world, equivalent to GM and Ford’s independently owned dealership networks.

Even after its decline, Tesla remains the world’s most valuable automaker, far ahead of Toyota, the world’s biggest automaker by volume. 

Toyota has a stock market value of about $270 billion. In 2020, Tesla’s surging stock made the company more valuable than the combined value of Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, GM, Ford and BMW. 

In January, Tesla’s falling share price caused its value to dip slightly below the combined value of the other major automakers. 

(Reporting by Noel Randewich in Oakland, California; Editing by Matthew Lewis)