Some guys can get away with financial murder. Other guys can't get away with anything. And still other guys think they can forecast wild changes every three months and still have credibility, when they most certainly deserve -- and now get -- none at all.
Welcome to the world of Tesla (TSLA), Apple (AAPL) -- which is a component of the Action Alerts PLUS portfolio -- and Fitbit (FIT), where Elon Musk can say whatever the heck he wants and get away with it, Tim Cook has to watch every last word even as he has repeatedly delivered the goods and James Park -- who seems to think that guidance is for idiots, or at least idiot analysts who follow the company.
At any given earnings season, we have people and analysts who really press the envelope and go for total outrage. But we have never seen the likes of Elon Musk in our lives. Musk makes a total mockery of the process, picking numbers that suit him, and is not the least bit concerned about the consequences of being wrong.
First, he produces a quarter that is in line, meaning that he's losing about $19,059 per car, near a record high -- thank you, Anton Wahlman, for that calculation.
Second, even as he doesn't even make the number of cars he promised for the quarter -- 17,000, below the 19,000 that analysts were expecting -- he's now projecting he will make 500,000 cars by 2018 and a million by 2020.
His transparency is shameless. While he boasts the seemingly impossible -- and I put "seemingly" in there because otherwise I am just calling him a liar, and I think he believes the numbers -- he uses the forecast both to urge you to send more to him and to raise more money from Wall Street.
Who else but Musk could say: "If you place your order now, there's a high probability you will actually receive your car in 2018." He's using the darned projection to sell cars! And then he uses it to give himself a chance to, and I quote, "raise some combination of equity and debt to make sure the company has a good buffer of cash on hand." That way, he says, he's de-risking the company.
I think he should raise all of the money he can to be sure that Donald Trump's defeated, because without government subsidies he might as well file for Chapter 11 right now, with those plans.
Yet, he gets away with it. Why, you ask? Because of demand. Elon Musk can say and do anything, because he has demonstrable demand for his product. Those deposits from thousands upon thousands of people are a fraction of the real demand out there. I am surprised he doesn't offer variable deposits so you can pay the whole thing first to get at the front of the line.
Then there's Apple and Tim Cook. Cook forecasted almost perfectly for the quarter just reported. Yet I defy you to find more than handful of stories that didn't typify the quarter as a huge shortfall. It was right dead in line, for heavens' sakes.
As for the forecast? What was Cook supposed to do? Make up one that showed better numbers than he can deliver? Given what he has in the pipe, and what he can see, barring a surge of orders for the new iPphone SE -- something that's entirely possible if you extrapolate comments from supplier Qorvo (QRVO) last night -- he had to do what he did to reset growth for the quarter.
But he wasn't going to give the analysts what they wanted, which is a pre-packaged Apple iPhone obituary. So somehow the "community" was disappointed. Well, excuse Tim Cook for believing himself. I guess making $10 billion in a quarter gives you some confidence to do so.
Fitbit? What can I say? Park should be banned from making any projections. His stock would be a heck of a lot higher if he were. Here's another one where the headlines are saying he had a shortfall. Wrong. The quarter was huge, much better than expected.
The guidance, however, was inexplicable; as inexplicable as the previous quarter, when he slashed projections dramatically and then crushed them last night. That's right; going into last night's quarter, he had guided down from $0.23 cents to zero to $0.02. So $0.10 was delicious, except he then took next quarter to $0.08 to $0.11 from $0.26.
In reality, these numbers mean nothing to him. In fact, he boosted the year's forecast. My advice: just make the damned product and shut up. Your stock would be going higher, not lower today. But I guess he just can't help himself.
What's the bottom line here, though? When you have too much demand, you can say anything. When you don't have enough demand to meet supply, it doesn't matter what you say, you will be disliked. And if you can't gauge demand or supply? Then, just stop talking, will you?