Yesterday was a bumpy ride for the stockholders of electric-car maker Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA].

Following the company's Wednesday release of its 2012 financial results, including an after-hours conference call, the stock plummeted yesterday.

Before the earnings call, it had closed Wednesday at $38.54. Yesterday, it opened sharply lower at $36.49 and closed at $35.16, almost $5 off its recent high.

At one point during the day, it had fallen to below the $35 level, which was enough to trip a so-called digital "circuit breaker" meant to slow the short sales of falling stocks.

Analysts suggested the market was expressing disappointment in Tesla's earnings per share, which were $0.12 below the pre-release consensus estimate.

As investor/commentator Tate Dwinnell summarized the sentiment:

It wasn't a terrible quarter from Tesla, but far from good too.

The company reported revenues that were just ahead of estimates at $306 million, but reported a wider loss than what analysts were looking for (-$0.65 vs. -$0.53).

Helping to drive the stock lower was likely a soft deliveries number. Deliveries were 2,400 for the quarter and about 2,600 for the year...below what the company was expecting.

Saibus Research also noted that Tesla Motors stock had increased almost 40 percent from its low last September to its level just before the earnings call, meaning that some pullback may have been inevitable.

Many analysts suggest that the real test comes in the current quarter, as the street waits to see if Tesla can actually deliver the 4,500 Model S electric luxury sport sedans that CEO Musk projected.

The current quarter is the first one in which the startup carmaker will build 400 cars per week, its target production rate, and begin to reduce its backlog of deposits, now at roughly 15,000.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk with Tesla Roadster

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk with Tesla Roadster

And, far more important, stockholders and analysts alike will be eagerly waiting to find out whether Tesla Motors is in fact profitable for the January-March period, as Musk suggested it would be.

Saibus summarizes its view of Tesla's 2012 results this way:

While we don't think that Tesla will generate as much profit as the CEO is projecting, we believed that this quarter would be important in gauging Tesla's ability to survive as an independent going concern.

In other words, wait for the current quarter's numbers--which will likely be released sometime in late April or early May--to get the first inklings of how Tesla performs at its full production rate.


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