Elon Musk
Elon Musk’s false expectations for auto sales caused Tesla’s stock to plunge Wednesday evening. | Image: Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)

Tesla stock (NASDAQ: TSLA) plunged dramatically in after hours trading Wednesday.

Starting the day off at $243 per share at the opening bell, the automaker’s stock dropped to $229/share by 5 p.m. Eastern. Tesla’s Quarter 3 delivery numbers caused the 5.7% plunge. But here’s the kicker: Q3 2019 was Tesla’s best quarter ever. So what are investors thinking?

They’re thinking 100,000. On September 26th, a leaked Elon Musk email set expectations for 100,000 Tesla deliveries in Quarter 3. That email to Tesla employees said:

“We have a shot at achieving our first 100,000 vehicle delivery quarter, which is an incredibly exciting milestone for our company!”

That email warmed markets up, and Tesla stock jumped more than 5% that day. The 100,000 figure represents a major psychological milestone. With 95,000 Teslas delivered in the record-setting second quarter of this year, it did look within reach.

Tesla Delivers 97,000 New Cars in 2019 Q3

Tesla Historical Deliveries (Vehicle Sales) by Quarter. | Source: Tesla, CleanTechnica

But when the numbers came out Wednesday, Tesla’s 97,000 new car deliveries seemed disappointing. That’s despite the fact that this was Tesla’s best quarter ever. It really demonstrates the power of calibrating (or mis-calibrating) expectations.

Posting record quarterly sales would give most stocks a bump but Elon Musk set investors up to be disappointed with these figures. After Musk set the benchmark at 100,000, Wall Street expected to see 99,000. Tesla fell short of that goal because of delivery logistics.

In a press release Wednesday, the company said:

“With production stabilized, delivery and outbound vehicle logistics were our main challenges during Q3. We made many improvements to these processes throughout the quarter, and plan to make further improvements in Q4 so that we can scale successfully.”

But production of new Teslas has stabilized.

And demand for Teslas is growing, especially in new markets. Teslas are a bestseller in the U.K., with strong sales in the rest of Europe, and surging demand in China.

Tesla Stock Correction Adds Up

Despite the promising outlook and great Q3 numbers for Tesla, the market had to correct a valuation pumped by Musk’s typical bluster. Investors should have known better.

Earlier this year, former New York Stock Exchange President Thomas Farley minced no words:

“How do you even triage the false and misleading claims that come out of Tesla to decide which ones to take issue with?”

It might not be a coincidence that Tesla stock jumped nearly 6% last week on the hype figures, and then corrected nearly 6% in under an hour after the actual figures were reported.

That 6% was a “hype premium” on the Tesla stock price. It was based on nothing other than a nice round number, that sounds really good, uttered by a CEO with a history of setting unrealistic goals. (This shouldn’t be interpreted as an attack on Elon Musk.)

It’s admirable that Musk sets goals at a high level to “fail” at a high level. But investors who don’t know that by now haven’t done even basic homework before speculating on shares of Tesla.

This article was edited by Sam Bourgi.

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