Cash is literally the lifeline of a business.
For this reason, Tesla’s (NASDAQ:TSLA) cash flow has always been a hot topic, not just among the investors but also the creditors.
Most parties are eager to find out about Tesla’s cash position, and they want to know if the company has enough liquidity to run its businesses.
For your information, Tesla has been not only profitable but cash flow positive.
As a result, Tesla’s cash on hand has been massively expanding as shown in the next discussion.
Before we begin, Tesla’s cash on hand, cash reserves, or cash positions mentioned in this article are meant the same and used interchangeably.
In the following discussion, we will dig into Tesla’s cash position and analyze the respective cash reserves over a period of time to see how the numbers have changed.
In addition, we also will take a look at the operating cash flow and the respective cash margins.
Also, we will compare Tesla’s cash position with free cash flow to see how the 2 cash positions are doing with respect to each other.
For your information, Tesla’s free cash flow is derived from operating net cash minus capital expenditures and it is meant to measure Tesla’s net cash outflow or inflow.
Finally, we also explore Tesla’s net cash from financing activities to see what the company does with the cash.
Let’s start with the following topics.
Tesla’s Cash On Hand
The graph above shows Tesla historical cash on hand or cash reserve for the period from fiscal 2015 to 2021.
Cash on hand or cash position depicted in the chart above refers to highly liquid current assets, including cash and cash equivalents disclosed in the balance sheets.
Aside from cash and cash equivalents, restricted cash – only the current portion – is also included as part of Tesla’s cash on hand in the chart above.
The long-term portion of restricted cash is excluded as they are collateral that needs to be held for more than 1 year.
Here is what Tesla says about restricted cash in the financial statements:
We maintain certain cash balances restricted as to withdrawal or use.
Our restricted cash is comprised primarily of cash as collateral for our sales to lease partners with a resale value guarantee, letters of credit, real estate leases, insurance policies, credit card borrowing facilities and certain operating leases.
In addition, restricted cash includes cash received from certain fund investors that have not been released for use by us and cash held to service certain payments under various secured debt facilities.
Here is a snapshot that shows examples of Tesla cash and cash equivalents, as well as the current and long-term portion of restricted cash, disclosed in the Q4 2021 financial statement:
As seen, Tesla has only a bit of restricted cash compared to its huge pile of cash & cash equivalents.
All told, Tesla’s cash on hand has basically been trending upward since fiscal 2015 and expanded the most at the beginning of 2020.
For example, Tesla has only $1.5 billion in total cash 6 years ago but the amount has since gone higher and reached $18 billion as of fiscal Q4 2021.
Tesla’s growing cash on hand has been driven primarily by the growth of the company, including working capital and cash flow.
For your information, Tesla is a capital-intensive automaker and requires tonnes of cash as working capital.
As the company grows, it makes sense for the company to expand the working capital and thus, the cash position.
Tesla’s Digital Assets – Bitcoins
Aside from cold hard cash, Tesla also holds investments in bitcoins.
Therefore, other than cash, Tesla also holds digital assets such as bitcoins as a form of liquid asset.
However, digital assets such as bitcoins are not recognized as cash in Tesla’s balance sheets and thus, they are not accounted for as current assets.
Instead, they are recognized as indefinite-lived intangible assets or simply digital assets under the portion of non-current assets.
That said, Tesla bought $1.5 billion worth of bitcoins in 2021 according to the following statements.
Here is an excerpt extracted from the 2021 annual report regarding Tesla’s investment in bitcoins.
Tesla Investments in Bitcoin
During the year ended December 31, 2021, we purchased and received $1.50 billion of bitcoin.
As of December 31, 2021, the carrying value of our digital assets held was $1.26 billion, which reflects cumulative impairments of $101 million.
The fair market value of such digital assets held as of December 31, 2021 was $1.99 billion.
Therefore, as of Dec 31, 2021, Tesla’s bitcoins carrying value was only $1.26 billion.
Despite the lower carrying value of Tesla’s bitcoins compared to the purchase price, Tesla’s bitcoin fair market value was worth a massive $1.99 billion as of Dec 31, 2021.
For your information, the fair market value is the value you get when you liquidate your investment.
Therefore, if you take into account the bitcoin fair market value, Tesla’s total liquid assets or total cash on hand may end up totaling $20 billion ($18 billion + $1.99 billion) as of fiscal 4Q 2021 as shown in the chart above.
Tesla’s Operating Cash Flow
A discussion of cash flow without including net cash from operations is deemed incomplete.
As such, I have included a chart above to depict Tesla’s net cash from operations.
As seen, Tesla’s net cash from operations has been on a rise and soared the most between fiscal 2020 and 2021.
As of 4Q 2021, Tesla’s net cash from operations broke all prior records and clocked at $11.5 billion USD on a TTM basis.
Year over year, Tesla’s net cash from operations grew nearly 100% in fiscal 2021 Q4, suggesting that the company has literally been printing cash.
Tesla’s Operating Cash Flow Margin
Tesla’s operating cash flow margin as shown in the chart above hovers above 20% throughout fiscal 2021, indicating the company’s powerful cash generation capability.
As of 4Q 2021, Tesla’s operating cash flow margin came in at 21%, a massive figure by historical metrics.
At this ratio, Tesla’s operating cash flow result is comparable to and has even exceeded that of General Motors as shown in this article: General Motors’s operating cash flow margin.
At more than 20% margin, Tesla is capable to convert $1 dollars of sales to $0.20 dollars of net cash from operations.
Additionally, Tesla’s operating cash flow margin has been on a rise and is now at a record high in fiscal 2021, illustrating the growing operating cash flow of the company.
In short, Tesla is a cash cow that knows how to print cash.
Tesla’s Free Cash Flow
While Tesla’s cash reserves and operating cash flow have been at record highs, they will not mean anything if Tesla keeps burning more cash than it can generate.
In this section, we are going to compare Tesla’s cash burn with cash reserves.
Tesla’s cash outflow or cash burn comes from two areas: (1)operating activities and (2)capital expenditures.
Operating activities are day to day business activities that consumes operating cash flows, including employees payroll, offices and factories rental, equipment and tools maintenance, R&D expenses, contracts, advertising and administrative expenses.
On the other hand, capital expenditures or CAPEX are cash needed to acquire and maintain hard assets such as property, buildings, equipment, offices and factories.
For Tesla, capital expenditures are crucial financial outlays required to maintain and expand its business operations, including the construction of its Gigafactory all around the world.
In the balance sheet, Tesla’s capital expenditures are treated as investments rather than expenses.
For example, the Gigafactory Shanghai China and Gigafactory Berlin Germany which were recently launched were accounted for as capital expenditures.
Be reminded that debt repayment and refinancing do not fall into the operating activities of the company and hence, it’s not part of the cash outflow or cash inflow discussed here.
Therefore, the combination of these 2 cash activities, net cash from operations and capital expenditures, constitutes Tesla’s free cash flow.
Tesla’s historical free cash flow is plotted in the following chart.
In general, free cash flow is derived from the following equation:
Free cash flow = operating cash flow – capital expenditures
The operating net cash can be a positive or negative number, depending on whether Tesla’s business operations can generate positive or negative operating net cash.
Sometimes the business can use up more cash than it can generate during the normal course of the business operation. In this case, the operating cash flow will be a negative number.
Coming back to the chart, the free cash flow chart above depicts Tesla’s TTM cash outflow or inflow for the period from fiscal 2015 to 2021.
According to the chart, Tesla’s TTM free cash flow has now been mostly positive in most recent quarters, implying that the company’s operating activities have generated sufficient cash to cover its business operations and CAPEX.
Prior to generating positive free cash flow, Tesla had burned an incredibly large amount of cash as depicted in all the negative figures in the above chart between 2015 and 2018.
If you look closely, Tesla’s cash outflow was the worst in fiscal 2018, with a cash deficit totaling as much as $4 billion on a TTM basis in some of the fiscal quarters.
Nevertheless, Tesla’s free cash flow has slowly improved over the years, particularly in the most recent quarters.
The worst was over for Tesla when the company generated its first positive free cash flow in 1Q 2019 on a TTM basis.
Thereafter, Tesla’s free cash flow continued to soar and reached $5 billion on a TTM basis as of 4Q 2021, the highest record the company has ever reported.
Year over year, Tesla’s 4Q 2021 free cash flow amount represents a growth rate of nearly 100%.
In short, Tesla generates strong free cash flow and is now a cash cow.
Tesla’s Free Cash Flow Margin
Similar to the operating cash flow margin, Tesla’s free cash flow margin measures the percentage of free cash flow being squeezed out of revenue.
As shown in the chart, Tesla’s free cash flow margin is at a record high in fiscal 2021, hovering around 10% on average in the past 4 quarters.
As of 4Q 2021, Tesla’s free cash flow margin clocked at 9%, also a record figure by historical metrics.
While Tesla has beaten GM in operating cash flow margin, it lags its counterpart by a few percentage points in free cash flow margin.
In this case, GM’s free cash flow margin reaches a massive 15% as of 2Q 2021 which is way ahead of Tesla.
Therefore, Tesla converts $1.00 dollar of sales to about $0.10 free cash flow at a 10% free cash flow margin.
Tesla’s Cash On Hand Vs Free Cash Flow
The chart above shows the comparison of Tesla’s free cash flow with cash reserves which we saw earlier.
According to the chart, Tesla’s cash reserves are multiple times higher than free cash flow in recent quarters.
However, Tesla’s cash on hand was barely enough to cover the negative free cash flow back in fiscal 2017 and 2018.
As a result of the positive free cash flow in recent quarters, Tesla’s cash on hand continued to soar and reached its record high as of 4Q 2021.
In short, thanks to Tesla’s positive free cash flow, the company would have run into a negative cash position if not for the growing free cash flow recorded over the years.
Tesla’s Net Cash From Financing Activities
While Tesla has been cash flow positive and has invested in bitcoins in recent quarters, the cumulative amount does not seem to be large enough to grow Tesla’s cash position to its current level.
The reason is that Tesla has been raising cash through external capital injection such as debt and stocks issuance.
According to the chart above, Tesla’s TTM net cash from financing activities has been mostly positive in all fiscal quarters.
The positive figures indicate that Tesla raised cash through equity injection or borrowings or both.
To further illustrate, the snapshot below shows an example of Tesla’s capital raise through financing activities:
In the snapshot above, Tesla raised nearly $9 billion of cash through debt in fiscal 2021.
In the same fiscal year, Tesla also repaid some of the debts which amounted to about $14 billion.
Therefore, the net cash raised in 2021 was -$5 billion which means Tesla has repaid more cash than cash borrowed.
While Tesla had paid back more cash in fiscal 2021, it hadn’t been the case in prior years.
According to the chart, Tesla’s net cash from financing activities was mostly positive in all fiscal quarters, illustrating the cash borrowed or obtained by the company.
As a result, Tesla’s growing cash on hand also had been partly attributed to the capital raise.
Since Tesla has been cash-flow positive, Tesla is no longer relying on external capital injection.
As seen, Tesla started to repay the debt in fiscal 3Q and 4Q 2021 which is shown in the negative net cash from financing activities in the chart.
That said, Tesla paid back $1.2 billion in 3Q 2021 and a massive amount of $5 billion in fiscal 4Q 2021
Tesla’s cash on hand or cash reserves are highly liquid assets that include cash such as cash and cash equivalents as well as short-term restricted cash.
However, Tesla does not include its bitcoin investment as part of its cash asset although the digital assets are highly liquid assets that can be sold within minutes.
As of 2021 4Q, Tesla’s total cash position, including cash and restricted cash, stood at $18 billion.
In the same quarter, Tesla’s bitcoin valuation carried a fair market value of nearly $2 billion.
Therefore, Tesla’s cumulative cash reserves came to about $20 billion as of 4Q 2021 after taking into account the bitcoin fair market value.
Tesla has been having positive operating and free cash flow, driven primarily by record Model 3 and Y deliveries in recent fiscal quarters.
Therefore, Tesla generates tonnes of cash now and is a cash cow.
For this reason, Tesla has started paying back debt as seen in the negative net cash from financing activities in recent quarters.
That said, Tesla paid a massive $5 billion of net cash from financing activities on a TTM basis as of 4Q 2021.
References and Credits
1. All financial figures in this article were obtained and referenced from Tesla’s quarterly and annual filings which are available in Tesla Press Releases.
2. Featured images in this article are used under creative commons license and sourced from the following websites: Marco Verch.
Other Statistics That You May Help
The content in this article is for informational purposes only and is neither a recommendation nor a piece of financial advice to purchase a stock.
If you find the information in this article helpful, please consider sharing it on social media and also provide a link back to this article from any website so that more articles like this one can be created in the future. Thank you!