Tesla stock falls 21% in worst-ever trading day

Tesla CEO Elon Musk walks past a Tesla Model S at the automaker's factory in Fremont, Calif.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk walks past a Tesla Model S at the automaker’s factory in Fremont, Calif.
(Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)

Tesla Inc. shares fell the most ever Tuesday after the electric-vehicle maker missed out on being included in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, taking investors who had bet on its entry to the benchmark by surprise.

Tesla shares closed down 21%. Declines started premarket and worsened as General Motors Co. said it would take a $2-billion equity stake in Nikola Corp. and partner with the fledgling truck maker to engineer and manufacture its Badger pickup. The news lifted Nikola shares by 41% while GM rose 7.9%.

Tesla’s share price had largely reflected the assumed inclusion ahead of the S&P’s announcement Friday, said Baird analyst Ben Kallo, who called the decision “a relatively surprising development.” Instead of Elon Musk’s Tesla, S&P Dow Jones Indices added online retailer Etsy Inc., chip-gear maker Teradyne Inc. and medical technology firm Catalent Inc.


“We think shares were reflecting expectations for substantial passive inflows,” with an estimated $4.5 trillion of assets indexed to the S&P 500, Kallo wrote in a note Tuesday. “We think the stock could be under pressure following the delay of S&P 500 inclusion, particularly from investors who bought ahead of the announcement expecting an opportunity to sell to passive funds.”

Kallo said he still expects Tesla will eventually be added to the benchmark, and the company’s “Battery Day” event planned for Sept. 22 could be a positive catalyst.

Tesla’s failure to make it into the S&P 500 may be connected to “question marks about the sustainability of regulatory emission credit sales which are currently underpinning earnings,” said Michael Dean, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

Other factors could have contributed to Tesla stock’s sharp rise in recent week, and to the current correction. Massive volume in stock option markets have helped push tech stocks higher ever higher in recent months. The Financial Times and other publications, using anonymous sources, identified Japan investment giant Softbank as the “whale” behind the trades. For various technical reasons, call options can push stock prices higher if the volume is high enough.

Softbank recently announced increased stakes in companies such as Inc., Alphabet Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Tesla. If the intention was to boost the price of Softbank’s holdings, the results were mixed: The firm lost a lot of ground as tech stocks fell hard after Softbank’s actions were revealed.

Tesla has soared nearly 300% this year, making it the second-best performer in the Nasdaq 100 index behind Zoom Video Communications Inc. The carmaker reported its fourth quarterly profit in a row in July and its much-hyped “Battery Day” may also have boosted optimism since many investors expect the company to unveil new technologies that day. The relentless rally has swelled the firm’s valuation, topping that of Toyota Motor Corp. to become the world’s biggest carmaker.

Tesla shares entered correction territory last week, following news of the company’s second-largest shareholder cutting its stake, as well as the market slowly digesting Tesla’s plan to sell as much as $5 billion in shares.

Times staff writer Russ Mitchell contributed to this report.