Nikola founder attempts to restore confidence and curb investor expectations as shares plunge

Nikola Corp. Executive Chairman Trevor Milton attempted to restore confidence and curb investor expectations in the company Wednesday as the stock plunged by more than 10% a day after its first quarterly earnings report.

“We’re a pre-revenue company. We told everyone from the beginning of the year, look, give us until the end of this year,” Milton said during CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”  “People want us to be Tesla in our first three weeks debut … That’s not going to happen.”

Nikola, which went public in early June, is still conducting research and development and hasn’t generated revenue yet.

Shares of the company, which plans to make battery-electric and hydrogen-powered trucks, fell by almost 16% in premarket trading. They recovered somewhat after Milton’s interview, and were down by about 10% in late morning trading.

Milton, founder of the company, reconfirmed several of the company’s plans, including production of its hydrogen fuel cell semi-truck for next year and a manufacturing partnership with a “big OEM,” or automaker, for its all-electric Badger pickup truck. He said the company has term sheets from three automakers for a partnership, describing the talks as “very, very deep definitive discussions.”

“The next four months are going to be the greatest four month’s in Nikola’s history ever,” Milton said.

Milton declined to discuss the number of reservations for its Badger pickup, saying “heaven’s no” to an inquiry about the company receiving zero deposits. The company began taking reservations of the pickup on June 29. He said the company may disclose the number of deposits in its next quarterly earnings.

The company went public June 4 after a reverse merger with VectoIQ, which is a publicly-traded special purpose acquisition company headed by former vice chairman of General Motors Stephen Girsky. Its stock has been a roller coaster ride since then. 

CEO and founder of U.S. Nikola, Trevor Milton speaks during presentation of its new full-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell battery trucks in partnership with CNH Industrial, at an event in Turin, Italy December 2, 2019.

Massimo Pinca | Reuters

“We’re coming in like a freight train. I think that’s why people were excited to invest. It’s kind of like getting in early or way early on Tesla,” he said. “You either get in early and you get the benefits of the rockiness or you don’t.”

Investors were hoping for additional information and guidance on milestones for the company during its earnings call Tuesday with Nikola CEO Mark Russell and CFO Kim Brady.

“The company did not report any meaningful new business development along with its 2Q earnings, likely putting large pressure on the stock price today,” Deutsche Bank analyst Emmanuel Rosner said in an investor note Wednesday.

Deutsche Bank reiterated its short-term buy rating for Nikola, citing expected upcoming announcements from the company have “the potential to push the stock meaningfully higher over the next few months.”

Nikola Motor Company Badger pickup truck

Source: Nikola Motor Company

Milton, who was not on the earnings call, said Russell and Brady were attempting to manage expectations of investors.

“With analysts, you really need to manage your expectations,” he said. “I’m a little bit more of an outspoken, communicative type of executive chairman. Our CEO and CFO were very methodical and they’re all about managing expectations with analysts.”

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