Here's a handy flowchart about news and Tesla, the broad strokes of which will be familiar to anyone who pays even glancing attention to the stock:
It's important to keep that dynamic in mind as you try to grasp Tesla's performance in the market in the past few years, which has been downright startling for a company whose path to profitability depends on a mix of quixotic infrastructure building, unproven market dominance and the leadership of a guy more interested in achieving the singularity and literally getting to the moon before Tesla operates consistently in the black. And yet:
Tesla Inc.’s market capitalization surpassed Ford Motor Co., as investors bet Elon Musk can deliver on ambitious growth targets before his more affordable Model 3 sedan even hits the market.
The smallest and youngest publicly held U.S. carmaker climbed as much as 5.7 percent in early trading Monday, a day after reporting 25,000 first-quarter deliveries and exceeding analysts’ estimates. Tesla’s surging shares have boosted its market value to $47.8 billion, about $2.7 billion more than Ford.
The numbers are bonkers any way you slice 'em. Ford shipped 84 times as many cars as Tesla did last year, to take one example. Ford is consistently profitable, to take another.
But markets function on narratives as much as they do on hard numbers, and Elon Musk isn't just selling electric cars: He's selling a dream. If Ford moves a hundred thousand more pickups next year while expanding its margins, well, that's great, but it's hardly a revolution. Meanwhile, if Tesla manages to sell a Model 3 in 2017 (still an “if”), it will indelibly alter course of human history. Ford hopes for a slightly more profitable status quo. Musk aims to blow up the status quo.
Does that warrant a valuation that puts Tesla at a more than 100-times forward price-to-earnings ratio? Who knows. You can't put a price on dreams.
UPDATE: You can, however, put a price on shorts.