Is NIO (NIO) Stock a Ticking Time Bomb?

Nio Inc. (NIO), a leading China-based electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer, has performed poorly over the past few months. Shares of NIO have plunged more than 5.4% over the past month and 17% year-to-date.

But, as per the latest headlines, it may appear that the situation will improve from here for the EV maker. On November 1, NIO announced its October 2023 delivery results. The company delivered 16,074 vehicles in October, growing by 59.8% year-over-year. The deliveries comprised 11,086 premium smart electric SUVs and 4,988 premium smart electric sedans.

Although deliveries surged by a high double-digit figure last month, growth was not as impressive sequentially. In September 2023, NIO delivered 15,641 vehicles. So, October’s deliveries represented a sequential increase of just 2.8%.

The company’s figures are lackluster compared to China-based peers such as Li Auto Inc. (LI) and Xpeng Inc. (XPEV) and past expectations.
LI’s October deliveries totaled 40,422 vehicles, increasing by 302.1% year-over-year and a sequential growth of 12.1% (based on 36,060 vehicle deliveries in September). Further, XPEV’s deliveries came in at 20,000 in October, an increase of 292% year-over-year and up 31% on a sequential basis.

While NIO’s stock did soar after the release of its delivery results, the rise was modest (nearly 2.1%) compared to LI (almost up 3.5%) and XPEV (up 7%). Moreover, the broad market rally on November 1 may have played a larger role than the vehicle deliveries news in NIO's rally.

Although NIO found support in recent trading days, the stock will likely suffer immensely in the upcoming months. So, we maintain a bearish stance on this EV stock.

Now, let’s review in detail what has happened in the past few months and discuss several factors that could impact NIO’s performance in the near term:

Poor Financial Performance

For the second quarter that ended June 30, 2023, NIO reported revenue of $1.21 billion, missing analysts’ estimate of $1.27 billion. The revenue translates to a decline of 14.8% from the second quarter of 2022. Its vehicle sales came in at $990.90 million, down 24.9% from the second quarter of 2022. The company’s gross profit decreased 93.5% from the year-ago value to $12 million.

NIO’s operating expenses grew 47.2% year-over-year to $849.65 million. Its non-GAAP loss from operations was $753.50 million, an increase of 132% year-over-year. The company’s non-GAAP net loss widened by 140.2% from the prior year’s quarter to $751 million. Furthermore, the automaker’s loss per share came in at $0.51 versus the consensus loss per share estimate of $0.24.

Unfavorable Analyst Expectations

Analysts expect NIO’s revenue for the third quarter (ended September 2023) to increase 47.2% year-over-year to $2.66 billion. However, the company is estimated to report a loss per share of $0.23 for the same period. NIO has also missed the consensus revenue estimate in three of the trailing four quarters and the consensus EPS estimates in all four trailing quarters, which is disappointing.

In addition, the Chinese EV maker’s EPS is expected to remain negative for at least two fiscal years.

High Levels of Indebtedness

On September 25, NIO closed its offering of $500 million in aggregate principal amount of convertible senior notes due 2029 and $500 million in aggregate principal amount of convertible senior notes due 2030. The issuance of a $1 billion convertible senior notes sent ripples of concern among investors and led to a significant drop in NIO’s stock price.

A debt offering generally indicates the company’s need for cash. Although issuing shares can be dilutive, a debt offering results in increased scrutiny by investors as excessive debt is often considered to hinder the company’s ability to generate a cash surplus.
Thus, higher levels of indebtedness due to additional debt offerings can be alarming as they potentially undermine the position of common stockholders. This apprehension potentially influences behavior toward NIO, reflecting concerns about the EV maker’s debt strategy and its implications for future financial stability and long-term viability.

NIO’s total liabilities were $9.52 billion as of June 30, 2023.

Struggling to Boost Sales in Europe

The Chinese EV manufacturer NIO is scrambling to drive sales in Europe, its first area of international expansion. The company is considering building a dealer network across Europe to speed up sales growth despite China-based EVs facing potential tariffs in the region.

NIO, an aspiring competitor to a world-class EV brand, Tesla, Inc. (TSLA), launched in Norway in 2021 and entered Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands in October 2022, enabling customers to purchase directly from its stores or online.

However, Nio began assessing dealers in key European markets after the company’s President said sales in Europe were missing expectations.
A source said that dealers were being considered both for Nio-branded cars sold in Europe and for project “Firefly,” a new affordable EV brand that the company plans to export to Europe from 2025.

Another reason to use dealers would be to ease cash pressure on NIO, which is prioritizing spending on research and battery swapping stations in China, that source added.

Job Cuts in the Face of Heightened Competition

Shanghai-based EV company Nio will reduce job positions in November and cut or defer some investment, strategic moves aimed at boosting the company’s viability as it grapples with widening losses and intense competition.

Demand for EVs has dampened in China as consumers prefer more economical plug-in hybrids, sales of which grew nearly 84.5% in the first nine months of 2023, helping automakers LI and BYD Co. Ltd (BYDDY) to gain market share.

Also, a price war started by world EV leader TSLA a year ago is dragging down the profitability of other EV makers, which have also stepped up efforts to cut costs and build partnerships to survive the escalating competition.

According to an internal letter signed by CEO William Li seen by Bloomberg News, NIO will slash its staff by 10% this month.

“Duplicate” and “inefficient” roles will be eliminated, and project investment that won’t contribute to the company’s financial performance within three years will be cut or differed, Li said.

Nio has been in a fight for survival amid fierce competition in the nation’s automotive industry over the past two years. Li wrote that to “qualify for the next round of competition,” the company must reduce costs and ensure resources for critical business areas. Also, he apologized to the colleagues who will be affected by the adjustments, as per the memo.

Price War in the EV Market

A price war instigated by Tesla a year ago increased the pressure in the EV industry, with other companies following by cutting prices in a race to attract customers as their sales showed signs of slowing.

Earlier this year, NIO slashed prices for its cars and announced delaying plans to spend on expansion and research. The Chinese electric car brand cut car prices by the equivalent of $4,200 and ended free battery swaps for new buyers.

Bottom Line

Once considered one of the dominant players in China’s EV market, NIO has poorly fallen short of its sales estimates and continued to post massive losses. The company’s revenue and earnings missed analysts’ expectations in the last reported quarter. Further, analysts and investors appear bearish about its growth prospects.

While its strategic initiatives, including job cuts and lower investment, could boost profitability in the long run, the EV maker continues to face near-term challenges with consumer preferences, fierce competition in the EV market, pricing power, widening losses, and lower margins.
Given its deteriorating financials, declining market share, lower profitability, and short-term uncertain outlook, NIO is best avoided now.