Jim Chanos Talks Tesla and Kidney Dialysis

I’m a great admirer of Chanos and I always try to learn something when I hear him speak. Here, an inter interview produced by Bloomberg. Two of the topics discussed, among others, were Tesla and the kidney dialysis industry.

To watch the interview, click here.

Below, two parts of the interview, the first one with a few words from Jim Chanos on the kidney dialysis industry (emphasis added).

*THE KIDNEY DIALYSIS INDUSTRY*

[12:45] Joe Weisenthal: Alright, to move it back from politics and theory for a second, I noticed you said there in your answer that you’re focused on some companies that may be in trouble with the potential rollback of the essential health care benefits. So, can you give us some insight into some specifics? Who’s vulnerable to a theoretical rollback there?

Jim Chanos: One area we would really focus in on, there’s only a handful public place, is the kidney dialysis business. I think that business is really heading for difficulties.

JW: Oh, we have a chart here of some different public companies…

JC: Oh, what a coincident.

JW: …in kidney dialysis. Amazing how that happened.

JC: There’s three of them, and I should say here that any companies that you either see a chart of or I mention, either intentionally or inadvertedly, you should assume that we are short that stock. Disclosure now done. And so, the kidney dialysis business is interesting because we have Obama care exchange insurance officials on record saying that kidney dialysis is almost single-handedly breaking the exchanges. Blue Cross of California has said that for every single kidney dialysis patient they have, they need 3,800 healthy lives to cover it. It is amazingly expensive, but not in the way you would think. In the way these companies have prospered, in a weird way, is they’re actually trying to push Medicare and Medicaid patients – where the reimbursement is much lower – into Obama care, and where they get two to three times the reimbursement rate, and under the essential health benefits factor, they gotta provide it. And so, taking an elderly person who’s on Medicare, why would they go into Obama care, right? It would costs them, an elderly person, a fair amount of money. Well, they get third parties to pay a big chunk of the premium, the former charities. And guess who donates to some of those charities? And so this is one of these sort of rent-seeking behaviours that I think is gonna go by the wayside. And I think these excess returns… one of those companies that you had up there actually has a slide in their investor dec that said 90% of their business is Medicare/Medicaid and that loses money. Ten percent of their business is commercial and that makes a 110% of their operating profit.

JW. So everybody can go search for that…

JC: Yeah, they can go search for one of those three companies. I think they quite figure it out.

Scarlet Fu: So has that gained momentum? Do you hear other people pressing the company on that? How that doesn’t seem to make sense?

JC: Well, there was a wonderful… I can’t mention networks, I know it’s no good on Bloomberg. But there was a wonderful Sunday night weekly news show on a cable network, chaired by a British guy, that actually did a 15 minutes segment about one of these companies about a month ago, and we were stunned when we saw it. We had no idea that anybody else cared. But they did a pretty good job at walking you through exactly what an issue this is.

So for all investors out there interested in the kidney dialysis industry, and for example DaVita Healthcare Partners (Ticker: DVA), a Berkshire stock investment, this might be something to dig deeper into to see whether Jim Chanos and his Kynikos is on to something here or not.

Following the chat about the kidney dialysis business is a discussion about Tesla, a company Jim Chanos has been talking about publicly before.

*THE TESLA AUTOMOBILE*

[15:49] SF: Let’s move on to another company that you have spoken publicly about which is Tesla. And as I imagined…

JC: Who?

SF: Tesla. T-S-L-A.

JC: Okay.

SF: The company is holding its annual shareholders meeting right now, so they’re probably applauding themselves for their five-year return. If you look at a chart…

JC: They’re probably launching themselves to March right now…

SF: Perhaps, perhaps. The stock has somewhat launched itself. It’s gone from less than $30 five years ago to more than $350. That’s a return of more than 1,000 percent despite the absence of consistent profits and incredible cash burn. So, Joe and I were talking about this, we know you’ve been public on Tesla for some while. What would it take for you to throw in the towel? What would have to happen for you to throw in the towel and say “I give up on this short, this is not gonna work”?

JC: I think that have to see the company actually begin to make money selling products. And I should point out that we were also short Solar City that he bought in. That one worked out a little better than Tesla. So, the fact of the matter is, that this is a company that, as you pointed out, burns a lot of cash and we think they’re gonna be burning close to 750 million to a billion a quarter for the next handful of quarters. It has not finished its Gigafactory, the batteries are made by Panasonic. But most importantly it has its big test ahead of it; the Model 3. It has been loosing money selling $120,000 cars, but it hopes to make money selling a $35,000 car, which we think it will be a lot more than that. You have an executive departure list, the only one I’ve seen longer in the last two years is Valeant’s. There just people are leaving left, right and center.

SF: It’s a freight train…

JC: Well something… I mean, I don’t know. They’re certainly… they’re not waiting around for the company of the future, the stock price notwithstanding. And so we’ll see. I mean the car is supposed to go into production in July. They’ll be competing with real companies in 2018. I noted with some interest as I got here the opening remarks by Mr. Musk were talking about transforming to an energy company, an energy solution company or something like that. So he’s trying to reposition the company as something other than an automobile company. But it is an automobile company with a money-loosing solar roof company subsidiary. In addition he’s got to raise a lot of money. Rule of thumb is it takes about 50 cents in capital for every dollar of automobile revenues. So if he’s gonna be doing a 500,000 Model 3’s and 100,000 of the Model S’s and Model X’s, he’s gonna need something on the order – that’ll be thirty some billion in revenues – he’s gonna need about another ten billion in capital to do that, and he’s gonna need it soon. So the Teslarian should just embrace themselves cause they’re gonna get the chance to buy a lot more stock or convert here I suspect in the coming months.

JW: What’s the most likely way, in your view, in which the Tesla story ends? Is it something that in the Model 3 doesn’t live up to the high…

JC: He actually starts making money. That’ll be what ends it.

JW: No, but I mean like in terms your thesis becoming validated. Would it be more of a sort of an investor strike, as in conditions changed, there’s a market downturn, people aren’t able to fund the…

JC: If the Model 3 isn’t gonna be popular, that’s gonna hurt, right. That’s the one everybody’s waiting for, the one that the average person who can’t afford an S or X and wants to be part of the Tesla revolution and if the car is a lemon I think that will be a problem. […] But at the end of the day he’s gotta make a car for the masses that is successful, so that’s what we’re gonna watch.

Some takeaways from the above talk that you may want to consider putting into your investor’s toolbox are:

  1. Are all customers contributing proportionally to the company’s profits?
  2. What’s the downside to the business from any current or future regulatory changes?
  3. How much capital is needed to support future growth (capital to revenues ratio)?
    • Who will provide the capital – debt or equity holder (any dilutive effects on current shareholders)?
    • Will the company be able to raise the capital needed?
    • How long is the business able to keep on going without further capital contributions?
  4. Does the industry in which the business operates make it possible for companies to gain and sustain any sustainable competitive advantages?

Disclosure: I have no position in any stock mentioned.

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