Ferrari, not Tesla, might be the stock to buy

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Last week Tesla's earnings – or lack thereof – were one of the big stories in the auto industry. As usual, the electric carmaker didn't make money, but the news sent the market, analysts, and Tesla's devoted fans into a lather. But another company, this plucky upstart called Ferrari, also attracted a positive reaction from the market and actually had the financials to back it up.

Ferrari posted net revenues of $898 million (at today's exchange rates) EBITDA of $265 million (a slightly complicated way to snapshot financial performance) and an adjusted net profit of $136 million in the first quarter. The company delivered 2,003 cars, and sales of its V12 models increased 50 percent. It quietly made progress nearly a year and a half into its life as an independent automaker. For 2017, Ferrari expects to deliver 8,400 cars and rake in net revenue of $3.6 billion.

No one thought Ferrari would flounder when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles spun it off in fall 2015. With a rich history, expensive products, and its own loyal fan base that's arguably even larger than Tesla's, the company seemed poised for success, though skeptics wondered how it might fare after longtime chief Luca di Montezemolo stepped down before the spinoff. Plus, the company remains within the FCA sphere, as its key stakeholders are largely connected to its former parent in some way, and Chairman Sergio Marchionne also steers FCA.

Last week's results showed Ferrari is gaining footing in the evolving automotive world, and analysts responded. UBS analyst Michael Binetti reiterated Ferrari stock (RACE on the NYSE) as buy status and raised his target price from $85 to $92. Morgan Stanley's Adam Jonas was even more bullish, raising projections to $100 in the next 12 months. Shares were trading around $82 Monday morning.

Both analysts viewed Ferrari as something different than a conventional automaker stock, with Binetti comparing it to luxury house Hermes, which produces high margins even for a specialty goods maker. Jonas suggested Ferrari's singular reputation and history (16 Formula One Constructors titles, the most ever) could insulate its products when autonomous and electric cars become even more commonplace.

"In our view, a Ferrari is not transportation," he wrote in a note to clients. "Ownership is viewed as an exclusive club, and membership requires more than just money. In a world where pleasurable human driving experiences on an open road become increasingly scarce, the value of this club's membership may indeed appreciate."

Ferrari is working on electric technology and has shown a willingness to diversify its product line with hybrid and turbocharging technologies in recent years. It also offers the GTC4 Lusso, a hatchback, with greater functionality than the brand's cars traditionally offered.

Tesla, meanwhile, posted revenues of $2.7 billion in the first quarter but booked a net loss of $330.3 million, $48 million more than in the first quarter of 2016. Its stock was trading around $311 per share Monday morning.

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