Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) debt to equity ratio measures the debt leverage of the company with respect to equity.
The equity portion is the net worth or book value of Tesla.
The more debt Tesla has, the higher the debt to equity ratio is.
For example, if Tesla has $1 dollars of equity and $10 dollars of debt, its debt to equity ratio will be 10 to 1 or 10X, meaning that Tesla is leveraging 10X higher than its net worth.
In fact, Tesla is highly leveraged in this case if its debt to equity ratio amounts to 10X.
In addition to debt leverage, the debt to equity ratio also reveals about the capital structure of Tesla.
For example, we can find out how Tesla funded its balance sheets through the debt to asset ratio, whether entirely by debts or by equity or equally both.
Ideally, the capital structure of a company should be well balanced between debts and equity.
For example, for every 1 dollar of equity, there is 1 dollar of debt. In this case, the debt to equity ratio will be 1.
However, in real life, this balanced debt structure scenario is not always the case for most companies.
The reason is that it may not be prudent to rely largely on equity finances.
In most cases, the cost of debt may be much cheaper than the required rate of return on equity.
This is particularly true in a low-interest-rate environment.
In this article, we will explore Tesla’s debt leverage and capital structure to find out how the company leverages and funds its expansion, whether by debts or by equity.
To do this, we will use ratios such as the debt to equity ratio and debt to asset ratio.
Let’s get started!
Equation For Debt To Equity Ratio
Before illustrating further, the equation that I used to calculate the debt to equity ratio is shown as below:
Debt To Equity Ratio = Debt / Equity
From the above equation, the equity part is easily understood.
Basically, it’s the total equity or the book value that can be easily obtained from the balance sheets.
Tesla’s equities include both shareholders’ equity and minority interest equity.
Two types of equities exist because Tesla is a holding company of multiple subsidiaries.
As such, the balance sheet is consolidated with the assets and liabilities of all subsidiaries.
The consolidation has led to the existence of minority interests in the balance sheet since Tesla does not own 100% of some subsidiaries.
The following snapshot illustrates Tesla’s non-controlling interest or minority interest portion in the balance sheet.
Tesla’s minority interest as shown in the balance sheet above is caused by the company’s ownership structure.
Tesla’s Debt Definitions
From the debt to equity ratio, difficulties may arise when we try to figure out the debt part of the equation.
There are countless definitions of “debts”. In this case, debts can be derived from long-term or current debts, total liabilities or interest-bearing only debts.
For simplicity, I have considered only “debts” that matter most in the analysis of Tesla’s leverages.
The following items shows the definition of debt in Tesla’s case:
1. Total debts – debt instruments that include both long and short-term loans as well as finance and operating leases. Basically, total debts are all interest-bearing debt instruments.
2. Long-term liabilities – these are long-term loans and other miscellaneous liabilities such as accounts payable, deferred revenues, leases, warranty reserves and so on. Only the long-term portion is measured in this case.
3. Total liabilities – these are all the liabilities in the balance sheet that are comprised of both long and short-term loans as well as other long and short liabilities such as accounts payable, deferred revenues and other miscellaneous liabilities.
The subsequent debt to equity ratio discussion will revolve around these 3 types of “debt” definitions mentioned above.
Tesla’s Total Debt
Let’s first briefly look at Tesla’s total debt as shown in the chart above.
As briefly mentioned in the prior discussion, Tesla’s total debt consists of mainly interest-bearing debt instruments, including long-term and current loans as well as operating and finance leases.
As of 2021 Q3, Tesla’s total debt (inclusive of operating and finance leases) reached a massive $10.5 billion, representing a decline of more than 30% compared to the same quarter a year ago.
For your information, finance and operating leases are interest-bearing debt instruments.
In fact, they have added substantial indebtedness to the company as shown in this article: Tesla debts analysis.
The leases, both operating and finance, are the total minimum lease payments or MLPs which also include the interest portion.
The following snapshot shows an example of Tesla’s minimum lease payments disclosed in one of its financial statements:
However, Tesla’s total debt does not include such liabilities as accounts payable, accrued liabilities, deferred revenue, warranty reserves and so on.
In short, Tesla’s total debt consists of only interest-bearing debt instruments and leases, both finance and operating, and has been on a decline since fiscal 2020.
Tesla’s Total Debt To Equity Ratio
The chart above shows Tesla’s total debts to equity ratio for the period from fiscal 2015 to 2021.
As seen from the chart, Tesla’s total debt to equity ratio was the highest back in 2015 when the ratio averaged around 4.0X.
At this ratio, Tesla’s leverage was $4 dollars of debt to $1 dollars of equity, illustrating that the company was moderately leveraged with respect to equity.
Over the years, Tesla’s debt to equity ratio has been declining and reached only 0.4X as of 2021 3Q.
At this ratio, Tesla’s leverage was low as its debt was less than its equity.
There are a few reasons for Tesla’s declining debt leverage.
First, Tesla has paid off some of its outstanding debt.
Also, Tesla has taken on fewer borrowings to fund its expansion in recent years and thus, the smaller debt to equity ratio.
Secondly, Tesla has issued more equity in recent years to fund its expansion.
This approach makes sense as Tesla’s share price has been surging to new highs.
In this case, Tesla can issue less equity to obtain the same amount of capital.
Also, equity is less risky compared to debt because Tesla does not have to repay the capital obtained through equity.
The only downside to equity is that it dilutes the control of the company.
For debt, Tesla needs to pay not only the principal but also the interest portion.
Tesla Long-Term Liabilities To Equity Ratio
In terms of long-term liabilities, Tesla’s long-term liabilities to equity ratio plot looks very similar to the total debts to equity ratio plot which we saw earlier.
In fact, the trend of the long-term liabilities to equity ratio plot looks exactly the same as the prior chart.
For instance, Tesla was highly leveraged back in 2015 when the long-term liabilities to equity ratio averaged around 3.8X.
Over the years, the ratio has significantly declined and reached only 0.4X as of Q3 2021.
At this ratio, Tesla was minimally leveraged at $0.40 dollar of long-term liabilities to $1.00 dollar of equity.
Similarly, Tesla’s declining total liabilities to equity ratio can be attributed to the declining debt and decreasing indebtedness of the company in recent years.
Additionally, Tesla’s surging stock price has caused equity issuance to be less risky and cheaper compared to debt borrowings.
In this case, Tesla can issue fewer equities to obtain a larger capital.
Tesla Total Liabilities To Equity Ratio
The chart above shows Tesla’s total liabilities to equity ratio for the past 6 years from fiscal 2015 to 2021.
Tesla’s total liabilities are basically all long and short-term borrowings and whatever the company owes to 3rd parties in the balance sheets.
In terms of total liabilities, the trend of Tesla’s total liabilities to equity ratio also looks similar to prior charts.
The only difference is that the leverage ratio has been much higher in the current chart.
This is expected as all liabilities are included in the measurement of the debt to equity ratio.
Again, a similar trend is observed for Tesla’s total liabilities to equity ratio.
In this case, Tesla used to have a higher ratio at more than 4.0X in fiscal 2015.
However, this ratio has since declined and reached only 1.0X in 3Q 2021, the lowest the company has ever seen.
At this ratio, Tesla has a balanced debt structure at $1.00 dollars of total liabilities to $1.00 dollars of equity.
Again, the 1.0X ratio shows that Tesla is moderately leveraged and the company should be doing fine with this level of liabilities.
Tesla has been getting rid of debt and has been inclined to take on more debt in recent quarters and thereby leading to the record low debt to equity ratio.
Instead, Tesla has preferred to finance its expansion through equity issuance since 2020.
The reason is that Tesla’s valuation has been rising steadily and has surged significantly in recent quarters.
Therefore, it is to Tesla’s advantage to obtain capital through equity issuance since the company can issue less equity but is able to get a much larger capital.
Again, Tesla does not have to pay back the capital obtained through equity issuance.
Tesla’s Capital Structure
The equation to calculate the total liabilities to total asset ratio is shown below:
Total Liabilities To Asset Ratio = [ Total Liabilities / Total Assets ] X 100%
The total liabilities to total assets ratio shows investors about Tesla’s capital structure.
As shown in the chart above, Tesla’s capital structure was mostly debt-based or liabilities-based prior to fiscal 2020.
For example, Tesla’s total liabilities to total asset ratio was around 80% between fiscal 2015 and 2019, indicating that the company was nearly funded by liabilities.
However, the ratio has significantly declined in recent quarters and reached only 50% as of 2021 Q3, a record low for Tesla.
At this ratio, Tesla’s capital structure was 50% of liabilities and 50% of equity.
Tesla was having a balanced capital structure at 50% of liabilities and 50% of equity in 3Q 2021.
Tesla’s capital structure was more on debt or liabilities prior to fiscal 2020 at 80% of liabilities and 20% of equity.
However, this scenario started to change in fiscal 2020.
When Tesla’s share price surged in 2020, Tesla slowly restructured its capital to an equity based rather than a debt based as seen in the declining plot in the chart above.
At this composition, Tesla’s leverage was moderately low at about $0.50 dollars of liabilities to $1.00 dollars of assets as of Q3 2021.
Tesla’s Debt To Asset Ratio
Another ratio worth taking a look at is the total debt to asset ratio which is shown in the chart above.
Similarly, this ratio also shows Tesla’s debt structure or capital structure.
As shown in the chart above, Tesla used to have a debt to asset ratio which averaged around 45% prior to fiscal 2020.
However, this figure has since declined and dropped below 20% as of Q3 2021.
At this ratio, Tesla’s capital structure was only 18% debt and the rest was equity as well as other liabilities.
Again, the declining ratio reinforces the idea that Tesla has shifted from debt-fueled financing to equity-fueled financing.
Tesla was minimally leveraged based on this ratio and has only $0.18 dollars of debt to $1.00 dollars of assets.
In short, Tesla uses less debt now and preferred equity-based financing to fund its expansion due primarily to the surging stock price in recent quarters.
To recap, Tesla’s total debts to equity ratio has significantly declined from its peak value of more than 4.0X recorded in fiscal 2015 to only 0.4X as of 2021 Q3.
The downtrend is also observed for the total liabilities to equity ratio, indicating that Tesla’s preference for funding has shifted towards equity over debt.
The trend is expected when Tesla’s valuation is slowly gaining ground and has surpassed $1 trillion by 3Q 2021.
At this enormous valuation, Tesla can obtain a higher capital through equity issuance even though this practice may mean further dilution to its existing stockholders.
Nevertheless, as of 3Q 2021, Tesla is minimally leveraged in terms of debt and has a balanced capital structure at 50% of liabilities and 50% of equity.
References and Credits
1. Financial figures in all charts above were obtained and referenced from Tesla’s annual and quarterly statements available in Tesla Quarterly Results.
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