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Nikola Motors – Outlook speaks for the company

Nikola Motors – Outlook speaks for the company

The press conference in February 2024 on the fourth quarter results and the entire year 2023 and, above all, the outlook for the current fiscal year support my very optimistic assessment of this start-up. Of the 42 built Tre FCEVs, 35 were delivered in the fourth quarter. Seven are currently being tested by fleet operators. The battery-electric trucks, Tre EVs, after the problems with the batteries and their replacement in the course of the year, will return to their buyers by the end of the second quarter.

Nikola can immediately sell every built Tre FCEV, because the demand is there, but there are now not yet enough parts from suppliers. In 2024, 300 to 350 are to be sold. Strong is the position with the coupons called (California) HVIP vouchers, from which Nikola can sell almost all (99 percent, 355 out of 360) for hydrogen-powered vehicles. We’re talking about up to 408,000 USD subsidization per FC truck. With the BEVs, there were 95 vouchers by the end of January 2024.

Focusing on California and Canada in the initial phase is smart in view of the support programs there. In parallel, Nikola is working via its subsidiary HYLA on important locations (including port facilities in California such as LA or in Orlando, Florida) to initially supply the necessary hydrogen with the help of mobile H2 refueling stations (significantly less regulatory work than with fixed locations), to then set up fixed H2 refueling stations depending on experience and demand.

On top of that is the partnership with FirstElement Fuel, a company that already operates locations at important hubs (ports such as Orlando) and supplies 100 to 200 trucks per day with the necessary hydrogen there. Sufficient hydrogen is available in any case, according to a take from the press conference. That already includes the Tre FCEVs to be delivered and their H2 requirements. Currently in development are nine locations of their own HYLA program in addition to those of FirstElement Fuel. Altogether, over 60 H2 refueling stations will emerge there in the future.

All important positions filled – with top talent

The CFO position has now also been filled: Thomas B. Okray is the new chief financial officer. He can boast an impressive CV: Okray was CFO at companies like Eaton, but also in a leading position in the logistics division (fulfillment) at Amazon and 14 years in top positions at GM – also as CFO.

With Jonathan Pertchik, Nikola is bringing in a managing director that already been successful as CEO at TravelCenters of America. The company was acquired by BP and is one of the largest truck stop operators in the USA. Here someday, hydrogen refueling stations from Nikola could be positioned – comparable to Pilot Flying J – if it came to a cooperation (an idea).

Ole Höfelmann will be, via the subsidiary HYLA, president of Nikola Energy. Before, he was responsible for the company’s global infrastructure activities. In his career, he has held numerous management positions for 30 years at Air Liquide, among other things as CEO of Air Liquide Spain with 3,000 employees. In addition, he worked at Plug Power as head of the electrolysis division. Furthermore, he is a board member of various associations such as the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

Carla Tully completes the executive board. She has held leadership positions in Fortune 150 companies, among other things as co-founder of Earthrise Energy (over 1.5 GW of renewable energy), was on the board of the Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum and in management positions at MAP Energy (2.4 billion USD market cap) and AES Corp. Nikola can thus draw on extensive expertise in the areas of M&A, private equity and CSR. Therefore, Nikola is optimally equipped for the future in all leadership positions.

Truck in use – Customers very satisfied

Several customer reports on long-distance journeys with hydrogen-powered trucks are very positive: Coyote Container drove from the Port of Oakland to Long Beach, then to Iowa and Ontario and back to the Port of Portland – 866 miles (1,393 km) on just one tank of H2. MTA Trucks drove 519 km (322 mi) from Edmonton to Calgary and back. The tank was still 40 percent full at the end of the route – at minus ten degrees Celsius. Other examples refer to trips of over 1,000 miles in one day with a full load.

Special potential with the Badger?

Yes, you read correctly: In 2023, Ember acquired the market rights (IP, design) and prototype for this strong-looking SUV named Badger from Nikola. Nikola sold these items as part of an equity swap (exchange via contribution in kind) to Ember and received 30 percent of the company in return. No capital will flow from Nikola, as it is concentrating on the e-truck. Certain is that the Badger, as an FC/battery SUV, could give serious competition to the Cybertruck of Tesla, should it come onto the market in time. Whether Ember and other OEMs and partners will actually implement this project is, however, still unclear.

Psychologically, however, it is a strong sign that Nikola is indirectly in the boat here. It will be interesting to see. Because the Badger once served as the basis for a cooperation with GM and resulted in a two-digit billion valuation of Nikola Motors at the stock exchange. There were 6,000 pre-orders at the time. Just think of it as a nice side topic, but it could be very exciting when things get concrete here and well-known names such as Magna, Dana, GM and many others pick up the ball. Consider this: The design of such a car too, which you already have, also costs a lot of capital – not to mention that the start of production requires a lot of capital, even if there are companies (OEMs) that could ramp up existing production capacities very quickly. Then, the Badger would be on the market in just a few years. Anything is conceivable.

Summary

With over 460 million USD in free capital (unrestricted cash), the company is initially well positioned. Cost-cutting measures, optimization and normal scaling effects in production (the more trucks are built and sold, the lower the unit price and the closer the break-even point becomes) will characterize the year as a whole, where the capital use on a quarterly basis is to noticeably sink. And 400 to 450 trucks of both types are the initial sales target for 2024, with expected turnover at 150 to 170 million USD. It should be noted, however, that order intake could end up significantly higher, even if it doesn’t affect turnover until 2025.

Nikola is still in the start-up phase. Theoretically, 2,400 trucks per year could already be produced if all supplier parts were available. As far as the share price is concerned, CEO Stephen Girsky repeated himself, Solomon-like, when he said – to the effect – that the stock market itself will be the best judge if the forecasts made come true. Bound to that is my expectation that we will soon see prices of over 1 USD (or significantly more) again when what is forecasted happens. A reverse split (share consolidation) as a measure to raise the share price over 1 USD is then naturally superfluous. (With a price of under 1 USD, it can theoretically come to a delisting of the NASDAQ on July 7 after a 180-day period that however can be extended.)

The price behavior of the share at this time will still be dominated by short sellers and naked short sellers that massively bet against the company and the share price. Mid-February, 217.6 million shares were sold short. This short interest could with good news lead to short covering (in the extreme case to a squeeze) – is my personal view, and only that.

On the other side, institutional investors like Norges Bank (who holds 10.25 percent in Nikola), Blackrock, Vanguard and others are buying, which can be seen as a good sign and should. Against the company founder Trevor Milton Nikola has already won in court, and it is now working on an enforcement title. After all, it entails 165 million USD. Milton still holds over 51 million shares, which could possibly be collected as a partial payment – no guarantees.

The share price is now being driven primarily by incoming orders for e-trucks. Out of the current test series with fleet operators could result – is my expectation – also many a large order.

Nikola is to be seen as a start-up. This is a new, disruptive market at the beginning of a long-term trend. Until the transition to the profit zone (2025/26), a lot of capital still needs to be invested (logical losses), but the stock exchange will gladly make it available if the forecasts come true and anticipate it in the share price development. The investment bank Baird recently announced a target price of 2 USD. Other investment banks may follow. The volatility of the share will remain very high. Daily fluctuations of five or even more than ten percent are normal. Not for investors with weak nerves.

Disclaimer

Each investor must always be aware of their own risk when investing in shares and should consider a sensible risk diversification. The FC companies and shares mentioned here are small and mid cap, i.e. they are not standard stocks and their volatility is also much higher. This report is not meant to be viewed as purchase recommendations, and the author holds no liability for your actions. All information is based on publicly available sources and, as far as assessment is concerned, represents exclusively the personal opinion of the author, who focuses on medium- and long-term valuation and not on short-term profit. The author may be in possession of the shares presented here.

Author: Sven Jösting, written March 15th, 2024

Nikola Motors: Capital increase at the right time

Nikola Motors: Capital increase at the right time

Short sellers are working massively against the company at the stock exchange. There were shortly even nearly 200 million shares sold short (on Nov. 16 still 193 million). But now, a price change upwards seems very likely. The reason could lie in the comments made at the press conference on the third quarter results, which Nikola – in my words – sees as being on the right track. The company amassed about 250 million USD in liquidity in the third quarter, and now has available 705 million USD in capital access.

The damage due to recalled battery-electric trucks was reported as 61.8 million USD (warranty reserve), where Nikola not only resolved this problem, but employed batteries from a still unnamed supplier that possessed advantages over the previous model, was the comment from the company. Additionally, the truck will be equipped with more features that will give the driver more options during use, for example from a distance using a smartphone app, the truck could be already prepared with heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, before the driver gets in. The battery-electric truck will, after the retrofitting in the first quarter, again find its way to customers.

Now orders can come

There are 277 letters of intent for the purchase of the hydrogen-powered truck. In the fourth quarter, 30 to 50 of them are to be delivered and between 11 and 19 million USD turnover generated. With the battery-electric truck, meanwhile – despite the recall – an individual order of 47 units will be gained. In the next two years, Nikola is determined to deliver on average 250 to 300 trucks of both types per quarter.

The cash burn is at 100 million USD in the quarter, where for the current quarter, the financial effects of the recall on the battery-electric truck are still to be felt (61.8 million USD, of which about 38 million USD is capital that will be used). And the better the scaling of the truck production goes, the more cost-effective they can be manufactured, in order to at the end of the day come out with a good profit margin. Consider this: Money is the future will be earned especially with electricity and hydrogen and not with e-trucks per se. Nikola is at the start of its (success) story.

California setting the pace

Nikola is concentrating, for good reason, on the US state California. Firstly, the best subsidies (up to around 408,000 USD per truck) are there; secondly, the time pressure for shippers to replace diesel-powered by CO2-free trucks is very high. Already starting 2024, in California only the last-mentioned will be allowed at port facilities, so there will be new registrations only for battery-electric or hydrogen trucks. We’re talking about over 30,000 trucks alone in this market segment – a winning pass for Nikola Motors, since in the Inflation Reduction Act are provided also 2.6 billion USD in subsidies specially for port facilities and also drayage trucks as well as for the H2 infrastructure.

Additionally, the competition for Nikola in this truck segment will be sparse for years to come. The look at the already approved vouchers for e-trucks is cause to celebrate: 96 percent of the vouchers of the California’s HVIP program for hydrogen-powered trucks and 50 percent of the vouchers for battery-electric trucks are attributable to Nikola. After all, Nikola is to have received approval of already over 400 vouchers for the two truck variants. A respectable success.

Lawsuit against Milton won

The lengthy legal dispute with company founder Trevor Milton was won. On October 20 came the decision. Milton must now pay 165 million USD to Nikola, which includes procedural costs Nikola first had to pay and now receives back. It should be noted here that there is still no indication of when the money will flow. Nikola still has to pay a portion to the SEC itself, as they reached a settlement of 125 million USD and must itself fulfill it. If 165 million USD flows from Milton soon, Nikola’s liquidity will rise, as the SEC payments will be divided over the next years.

Goals ambitious but realistic

Currently, Nikola can produce 2,400 trucks of either variant per year. In order to be profitable, sales of 1,000 trucks in 2024 and 1,500 in 2025 are needed. These targets are considered realistic from the company’s perspective, if Nikola delivers 250 to 300 truck per quarter. In my view, there will also be some large orders. Beyond this, declarations like the letter of intent (LoI) with Anheuser-Busch (800 trucks) will also flow into the orders on hand, is my expectation.

Nikola Motors – The Tesla of trucks?

For this hypothesis, I earned a lot of criticism. One cannot compare a startup like Nikola, though, with the success story of Tesla. One can say: Tesla started small, then came Elon Musk. The company reported heavy losses for many years and was even on the verge of bankruptcy before the breakthrough came. In the first three years, Tesla earned money, but not with the e-cars but with  emission rights that could be sold to other car manufacturers. Tesla solved the chicken-and-egg problem by providing the electricity for the battery-electric vehicles itself by establishing a charging network made of its own Supercharger stations. Who would have bought a car from Tesla if there had been no charging option – as a package, even free of charge for years?

Nikola is doing the same – only for trucks with the help of electric charging stations and H2 refueling stations. Nikola wants to earn money with electricity and the self-produced or purchased hydrogen. In the USA are waving high subsidies of three USD per kg. Tesla continues to address the market for e-cars, but Nikola the segment for trucks. Both companies can be considered disruptive – they change markets and business models. Both are first movers.

Tesla and its CEO was met with much skepticism, but they proved that change is possible. Nikola is doing the same – only for commercial vehicles. Whether both can be compared with regard to the development of their valuation or share prices time will tell. For Nikola I am extremely optimistic.

Chief financial officer leaves the company

Stasy Pasterick was just six months in office as CFO. She is going over to Universal Hydrogen in the same capacity. It will be interesting to see who her successor will be.

Capital increase secures the company

On December 6, 2023, Nikola’s plan to raise fresh capital on the stock market became known. It entails a convertible bond of a nominal 175 million USD with 8.25-percent coupon (green bonds) with maturity December 2026 (0.90 USD conversion price per share) and 100 million USD in new shares at 0.75 USD per share. The share price fell from around 1 USD probably because – no guarantee – a hedging took place, so the price was depressed, as one can retain and stock up on the share after the capital raise. The share also fell because short sellers wanted to use the capital increase as a negative for themselves.

In accordance with experience, this measure will have already been successfully implemented by the time you read these lines. With it, Nikola is then thoroughly financed and will ultimately have 500 million USD in the bank. That the share price is rising above 1 USD again is also in the nature of things, because the financiers (investment banks such as Nomura) will most likely not accept a delisting of the share (it will come to this if the price sinks below 1 USD for a longer time).

Summary: Nikola is well on the way to positioning itself as a first mover in CO2-free trucks in the USA – first in California, later across the whole country and in parallel in Canada, where likewise large subsidy sums up to 380,000 CAD per truck are waving. Comprehensive funding programs are acting as a turbo, as the buyers of the trucks can comply with the regulatory pressure and are financially incentivized as well. The H2 infrastructure is being established by the company itself, but will be financially accompanied by business partners such as Voltera (EQT) and is receiving a boost by a 7-billion-USD program of the Biden administration, in which seven hydrogen hubs are to be established in the USA. The stock market will not be able to avoid newly valuing Nikola as a startup: In the right market at the right time. Maybe Nikola will even be the H2 share that develops the most price potential. What’s the phrase? No risk, no fun.

Nikola’s management team is considered excellent. CEO Stephen Girsky pointed out that this includes top managers who no longer actually have to work in a start-up, but who are happy to contribute their expertise to make the company’s vision a reality. This is the right approach – out of conviction and with experience.

Disclaimer

Each investor must always be aware of their own risk when investing in shares and should consider a sensible risk diversification. The FC companies and shares mentioned here are small and mid cap, i.e. they are not standard stocks and their volatility is also much higher. This report is not meant to be viewed as purchase recommendations, and the author holds no liability for your actions. All information is based on publicly available sources and, as far as assessment is concerned, represents exclusively the personal opinion of the author, who focuses on medium- and long-term valuation and not on short-term profit. The author may be in possession of the shares presented here.