Many investors pay a lot of attention to stock splits, even though they do nothing directly to boost the value of a company. Even though splitting a stock only gives shareholders a larger number of lower-priced shares, some see such moves as indicating long-term confidence in a company's business prospects.
For electric-car maker Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA), confidence from CEO Elon Musk and his executive team has never been lacking, but investors have never gotten a stock split from the company. Now that Tesla has climbed into the mid-$300s, some diehard split advocates are wondering whether the automaker could finally pull the trigger with a move in the near future.
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Why hasn't Tesla done a stock split before now?
Many companies with longer histories have already done stock splits in the past, so investors can look at what motivated past moves in deciding what conditions would need to be present in order to justify similar decisions in the future. Tesla, however, has never done a stock split, so we can only infer what might cause the company to split its shares by seeing what hasn't been sufficient in the past to spur Tesla to action.
Tesla stock essentially treaded water from its 2010 IPO through 2013. At that point, though, investors started believing in the stock, largely because what had previously been only a concept started to become reality.
In 2013, Tesla started delivering larger numbers of its groundbreaking Model S electric sedan, putting to rest fears that the fledgling company wouldn't be able to boost production capacity adequately to meet the huge demand that customers had for the vehicles. Shares rocketed past the $100 mark and climbed above $275 per share briefly by late 2014.
Yet even as investors started wondering whether triple-digit levels would lead Tesla to announce a stock split to build on the share-price momentum, Tesla never even mentioned the idea of a stock split in its quarterly conference calls. Instead, the company kept its focus squarely on its fundamental business prospects, announcing additional vehicle models and working toward grabbing up a larger share of the overall automobile market. The stock started to oscillate in both directions with more volatility, reacting negatively to bad news from events like battery fires, but then climbing on favorable news on customer orders and delivery figures.
Going with the crowd
What's remarkable about Tesla isn't that it has chosen not to do a stock split, but rather that investors still speculate about it. Stock-split activity has greatly diminished in recent years, with one major catalyst for making such moves having disappeared.
In the past, companies couldn't count on investors being able to buy and sell shares of stock if they rose above certain limits, largely because the nature of the trading environment put a premium on being able to trade in round lots of 100 shares. Asking would-be shareholders to pony up $35,000 for 100 shares of Tesla puts the stock out of the reach of many rank-and-file investors. The rise of discount brokers has made it feasible for investors to buy as little as a single share of Tesla stock without having to pay draconian commissions, and Tesla has therefore not had to make moves with its share price in order to improve its access to capital through the equity markets.
Meanwhile, Tesla continues to gain speed with its core business. The launch of the Model 3 promises to be a game changer for the company, opening up its vehicles to a mass market at a relatively affordable price.
It's true that Tesla's acquisition of sister company SolarCity hasn't resulted in the vertically integrated operation that many thought would bring together potential sources of electrical charge, but efforts to improve on battery technology are ongoing and could spur advances not only in the electric vehicle market, but for other applications, as well.
Investors shouldn't expect Tesla to split its shares anytime soon. If Elon Musk and his team had been inclined to do so, they would have done it already. Without any compelling justification to make a move, Tesla shareholders will have to be content with the huge share-price advances they've enjoyed over the automaker's years as a publicly traded company.
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