Is Elon Musk doing enough to placate Tesla investors?

Even though Elon Musk survived a call to strip him of his chairman title at this week’s Tesla (TSLA) annual meeting, that doesn’t mean the pressure is off the tech billionaire. 

Investors are watching carefully whether Tesla can meet its production goal of producing as many as 5,000 Model 3 cars per week. At the shareholder meeting, Musk said he was “highly confident” the company can meet that target. That assuaged some shareholders, who sent the stock up more than 9 percent on Wednesday. 

Yet obstacles remain for Tesla, including what some shareholders see as a misuse of Musk’s talents. The company would be best served if Musk would give up his chairman role and focus on running the company rather than corporate governance, in the view of ISS, a proxy advisory firm that urged shareholders to vote in favor of tapping an independent director as chairman. 

In the near term, investors are focused on the Model 3 production rate because ramping up sales will help offset Tesla’s huge cash burn. 

“What investors will look for is a clear indication and follow-through that they will meet production target,” said Clayton Allen, an analyst at Height Capital Markets. “People understand that demand is there, and you want them to execute on the product side.”

Here are the issues that are weighing on shareholders:

Slow down its burn rate

Tesla’s cash burn is accelerating, leading to concerns it may require the company to raise more capital and possibly delay profitability. “Tesla has so far been able to finance these uses of cash by repeatedly issuing new debt and convertible securities, but its continued struggles have made analysts skeptical that the company could do so again,” wrote CtW Investment Group, which represents union-sponsored pension funds, in a letter to other shareholders. 

Meet production goals

As noted, a key issue is meeting the pledge to produce 5,000 Model 3 cars per week. Some shareholders are skeptical given repeated misses throughout Tesla’s history. Musk originally pledged to produce 500,000 Model 3s per year by 2018, but Tesla made less than 10,000 in the first quarter of 2018, CtW notes. 

Concentrate Musk’s focus on Tesla

Musk’s “peripatetic focus” isn’t helped by a board whose members have family or other ties to him because they defer to him, CtW said. “Shareholders would be better served by having Musk focus on running the company,” ISS said, “and allowing an independent director to run the board.”  

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