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NIO Q4 2023: Weakened Earnings, Ambitious Goals

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Websim is the retail division of Intermonte, the primary intermediary of the Italian stock exchange for institutional investors. Leverage Shares often features in its speculative analysis based on macros/fundamentals. However, the information is published in Italian. To provide better information for our non-Italian investors, we bring to you a quick translation of the analysis they present to Italian retail investors. To ensure rapid delivery, text in the charts will not be translated. The views expressed here are of Websim. Leverage Shares in no way endorses these views. If you are unsure about the suitability of an investment, please seek financial advice. View the original at

Models produced by Chinese carmaker NIO Inc (ticker: NIO) are neither the cheapest nor the most expensive ones on offer in China’s crowded automobile market; the addressable market can roughly be described as being the “middle-to-upper” income segment. Despite high technical watermarks, there are a number of other competitors that cater to this segment. Furthermore, this segment is arguably the most vulnerable to the economic headwinds China is beginning to feel (as described in an article published in December1).

Its latest earnings release is stated to have missed analysts’ expectations; however, this isn’t likely to significantly impact on the stock’s valuations since they have already been in a gentle decline over the past year. Why they were deemed to be missing expectations, despite some very good top-of-the-line metrics, is worthy of examination.

Trend Studies

In general trends, it can be seen that the company tends to run on very thin margins.

Source: Company Financials, Leverage Shares analysis

While the impact of cost of sales on total revenue did have some encouraging downtrends through 2020 and 2021, this has steadily trended upwards since to consume nearly all of revenue earned. The company’s revenues used to be almost entirely driven by the sales of cars. In the past year, revenues from “other” sources – namely the sale of accessories and power solutions, resale of used cars, sale of power piles, etc. have shown some encouraging increases. The growth of “other” sales is indicative of a strong sense of user retention. Overall, total operating expenses are paring down to somewhere around the 45-50% share of total revenue. While the company has never shown positive net incomes, gross profits have been positive since 2020. In the past year, its share within total revenues is at 4-year lows.

In first-order (i.e. “Year-On-Year” or YoY) terms, however, there are a number of encouraging trends.

Source: Company Financials, Leverage Shares analysis

While the company’s trends in number of vehicles delivered is paring off from the massive upticks seen in 2020 through 2021, there have been no downturns. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, the company delivered a little over 160,000 vehicles and offers guidance that Q1 2024 sales will be 31,000-33,000 vehicles. Considering that 10,055 vehicles were delivered in January this year and 8,132 in February, this implies that the company hopes to deliver somewhere around 12,000-15,000 vehicles in March. Given the ongoing crush on household expenditures and the downtrend seen in February, this is a rather interesting assertion.

Despite gross profit being positive over the past few years, first-order trends indicate that this is under some pressure which the company explains (at least in this past year) as primarily being due to the decrease in gross margin from the provision of power solutions as a result of an expanded power network across China. The company also states that it has begun to attract a relatively higher vehicle margin (11.9%) which isn’t altogether surprising; NIO’s models generally aren’t known to be deficient in quality.

Perhaps the most interesting trend to be seen are those in net income and Earnings Per ADS (American Depositary Share): over the past two years, the former has shown a fairly strong uptrend while the latter has had a pretty strong uptrend for the past three years. While earnings per ADS have been 36% lower than in the previous year at a loss of $1.75, it is a far cry from the loss of $10.21 in 2018. Overall, this impact on the bottom line is a par for the course for the company: it is known to aggressively push for greater automation and other forms of production floor upgrades, as well as substantial R&D effort. It is entirely likely that the earnings breakeven which was expected to happen in 2024 would be deferred by at least a year.

Going over vehicle sales, et al relative to vehicles delivered for that year might not be wholly meaningful for any given year since most buyers of higher-end vehicles typically wait a period of time to collect their orders after making payment. Nonetheless, overall trends are rather telling. The ratio of vehicles sales to vehicles delivered has substantially flattened from a little over $62,000 per delivery in 2018 to around $43,000 (i.e. roughly the price of an ET5, the cheapest model) in 2023, thus suggesting that buyer expectations are largely set and a relative “size of the market” is largely determinable by the company. This is also borne out by strong trends in “other sales” relative to the volume of vehicles sold. The relative downtrends in gross profit and the rising increase in net losses also suggests an increasingly-clear addressable segment, which implies that the company’s battle with other carmakers (such as BYD) catering to that same segment.

Performance Comparison: Stock vs ADS

As described in the recent Baidu earnings article2 as well as others over the years, it isn’t entirely possible for most global investors to own an interest via stock ownership; instead the “American Depositary Share” (ADS) format followed by most Chinese companies traded in American bourses act as a form of a promissory note that offers a defined portion of the profits of the company instead.

NIO’s ADS has always been equivalent to one Chinese share. There are a number of differences in market player participation, as exemplified in performance logged over the past one year.

Source: Leverage Shares

Overall, the ADS tends to be slightly better than the Chinese share in terms of performance: from 2023 through the 5th of March this year, the ADS declined 43% while the share declined 47%. This is at least partly explainable trends in volumes: traded volumes of the ADS tend to be anywhere from 5 to 322 times that of the Chinese shares’ volumes. In 2024, the ADS’ daily volumes are 34 times that of the Chinese shares on average.

In Conclusion

The company isn’t exactly content with staying within its best-addressable segment: in its annual user gathering “NIO Day” this past December, the company unveiled the ET9 electric executive flagship in Xi’an, China.

NIO Founder William Li Unveiling the ET9 at NIO Day 2023. Source: NIO

Touted to have over 100 NIO full-stack technologies3 – including 17 world-firsts and 52 leading advancements such as the Adam 2.0 super computing platform and China’s first Full-Domain 900V Architecture which enables 600kW peak charging power and a 255 kilometer range extension in just 5 minutes – this model (with deliveries expected in 2025) will be the company’s attempt to cash in delivering a luxury brand experience coupled with peak performance to unlock inroads into a more recession-proof user segment.

The company’s technical achievements have been also been garnering attention from other quarters in some interesting ways. After picking up an aggregated 7% stake4 in NIO in June, the Abu Dhabi government’s investment fund CYVN Holdings injected another $2.2 billion to bring its stake in the company up to 20% in December. On February 26, a subsidiary of NIO Inc., entered into a technology license agreement with CYVN subsidiary Forseven that grants the latter access to the company’s “existing and future technical information, technical solutions, software and intellectual property rights”. It is entirely possible that this transaction was enacted to propel an EV project that will be indigenous to the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates.

While the company might not be currently profitable, that doesn’t necessarily mean the company isn’t successful. However, there are a plethora of other stocks that don’t have negative earnings trends that will likely be preferred by many investors over the company’s. There might be a number of opportunities later on in the year to buy the dip for long-term growth investors. In particular, price volatility can be expected after March sales numbers are released as well as other periods of the year.


Footnotes:

  1. “China’s Economy: In Recession?”, Leverage Shares, 22 December 2023
  2. “Baidu Q4: Why Earnings Missed Expectations”, Leverage Shares, 1 March 2024
  3. “NIO Day 2023 Unveils Tech-Packed ET9 Flagship Sedan”, The EV Report, 26 December 2023
  4. “Abu Dhabi Fund’s $1 Billion Stake In EV Maker NIO Highlights Growing Arab-China Ties”, Forbes, 24 June 2023
Your capital is at risk if you invest. You could lose all your investment. Please see the full risk warning here.

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Sandeep Rao

Research

Sandeep joined Leverage Shares in September 2020. He leads research on existing and new product lines, asset classes, and strategies, with special emphasis on analysis of recent events and developments.

Sandeep has longstanding experience with financial markets. Starting with a Chicago-based hedge fund as a financial engineer, his career has spanned a variety of domains and organizations over a course of 8 years – from Barclays Capital’s Prime Services Division to (most recently) Nasdaq’s Index Research Team.

Sandeep holds an M.S. in Finance as well as an MBA from Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago.

Violeta Todorova

Senior Research

Violeta joined Leverage Shares in September 2022. She is responsible for conducting technical analysis, macro and equity research, providing valuable insights to help shape investment strategies for clients.

Prior to joining LS, Violeta worked at several high-profile investment firms in Australia, such as Tollhurst and Morgans Financial where she spent the past 12 years of her career.

Violeta is a certified market technician from the Australian Technical Analysts Association and holds a Post Graduate Diploma of Applied Finance and Investment from Kaplan Professional (FINSIA), Australia, where she was a lecturer for a number of years.

Julian Manoilov

Marketing Lead

Julian joined Leverage Shares in 2018 as part of the company’s primary expansion in Eastern Europe. He is responsible for web content and raising brand awareness.

Julian has been academically involved with economics, psychology, sociology, European politics & linguistics. He has experience in business development and marketing through business ventures of his own.

For Julian, Leverage Shares is an innovator in the field of finance & fintech, and he always looks forward with excitement to share the next big news with investors in the UK & Europe.

Oktay Kavrak

Head of Communications and Strategy

Oktay joined Leverage Shares in late 2019. He is responsible for driving business growth by maintaining key relationships and developing sales activity across English-speaking markets.

He joined Leverage Shares from UniCredit, where he was a corporate relationship manager for multinationals. His previous experience is in corporate finance and fund administration at firms like IBM Bulgaria and DeGiro / FundShare.

Oktay holds a BA in Finance & Accounting and a post-graduate certificate in Entrepreneurship from Babson College. He is also a CFA charterholder.

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