Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) may finally join the S&P 500 Index courtesy of the latest quarterly results.
On Wednesday, the electric vehicle (EV) maker posted a net income of $104 million for the second quarter. This marked the fourth consecutive quarterly profit, a first in Tesla’s history.
For a company that has been written off numerous times, it is a notable accomplishment. To the discerning eye, the results should raise more concerns than excitement.
Tesla is increasingly dependent on selling emissions credits to other automakers to make a profit.
During the second quarter, Tesla sold regulatory credits worth $428 million and made a profit of $104 million. In the first quarter, the company sold emissions credits worth $354 million and returned a profit of $16 million. That’s 21% growth quarter-on-quarter.
In Q2 2019, Tesla sold regulatory credits worth $111 million. That represented an annual growth rate of 286%.
Even as revenues fell, the sale of regulatory credits was Tesla’s lifesaver. As the EV maker sells more cars, this revenue source is going to increase. But it is unsustainable in the long run as rival automakers ramp up their efforts in the EV space.
At a time when competition in the EV space is growing, Tesla is reducing the one investment that gives it a technological edge. Compared to a similar quarter a year ago, Tesla cut research and development spending by 14%.
Tesla’s R&D spending reached its peak in 2018 and has been falling ever since. In 2019, the EV maker’s R&D expenses dropped by 8%. During the first six months of this year, R&D expenses have fallen by nearly 10% annually.
Tesla’s declining R&D contrasts sharply with legacy automakers, which are increasing their research spending. For instance, Volkswagen raised its spending on electric and autonomous vehicle technologies 36% last year.
In its Q2 earnings report , Tesla said reduced operating costs contributed to profitability. Unfortunately, parts of the cuts came from a department that needs more funds to weather the growing competition.
While releasing the Q2 results, Tesla noted:
The positive impact of higher vehicle deliveries, higher regulatory credit revenue and higher energy generation and storage revenue was somewhat offset by lower vehicle average selling price (ASP) and lower services and other revenue.
As competitive pressures increase, Tesla can expect to record lower margins from every vehicle sold due to price reductions. Unless production and input costs reduce dramatically, the EV maker will continue to rely on revenues from a non-core business to generate profits.
Tesla’s measly quarterly profit now brings the firm one step closer to joining the S&P 500 Index. On the flip side, it also exposes how overpriced TSLA is compared to the world’s 20 largest companies by market cap. Tesla is now a member of this elite group.
For the top-20 companies, the median price-to-earnings ratio is 30. The EV maker’s P/E ratio, on the other hand, is more than 300.
Tesla’s latest quarterly profit is nothing to cheer about.