NIO: There’s a New Bull in Town

Up more than 1,150% in the past year, Chinese electric-vehicle maker NIO (NIO) turned into one of the best-performing stocks of 2020 — but one analyst thinks there are more gains to come.

Initiating coverage on the “epitome of Chinese luxury brand[s]” and “domestic leader in EV manufacturing,” Nomura analyst Martin Heung argues that even after its steep run-up, Nio stock remains a “buy” and has at least another 30% to run (above Friday’s closing share price of $61.95).

So why does Heung like Nio? In one word: Growth. And in another word: Batteries.

On the growth front, Heung observes that EV-friendly infrastructure in China is improving, encouraging more car buyers to make the leap to electrics. “Conservatively,” says the analyst, by as early as 2025 16.5% of new cars sold in the Middle Kingdom should be electrics, which implies an overall 31% annual sales growth rate for the industry (and probably a faster growth rate for leaders like Nio). Additionally, at some point electrics should reach critical mass (Heung estimates this will happen at 20% market penetration), which will convince even more car buyers to transition to electrics — accelerating sales growth further.

Helping Nio to maintain a market-leading position in China will be its “batteries as a service” (BaaS) business model, in which Nio sells cars to customers, leases the batteries to run those cars — and then offers customers the ability to swap out their current batteries for new, fully-charged batteries as a faster alternative to charging the batteries.

“By improving swapping time to only three minutes” and by placing such battery swapping stations throughout “most parts of the major cities in China, NIO hopes to redefine the whole user experience of owning an EV,” says Heung. Swappable batteries, notes the analyst, helps to eliminate customers’ range anxiety at the same time as it reduces wait times at charging stations, improving the customer experience in two different ways. Additionally, when arguably the most expensive and most important part of an electric car — the battery — is removed from the equation, customers will no longer need to worry about whether an aged car battery might reduce the resale value of their cars years down the road, removing yet another impediment to making a sale.

In this way, Nio’s BaaS strategy also helps to differentiate Nio’s offerings, and builds a moat around the business. Widening and deepening that moat even further (to steal a phrase from Warren Buffett), Nio is encouraging customers to sign up for long-term, five-year battery leases in exchange for a lower cost per year — essentially locking customers into its ecosystem for the lease term.

All of the above, says Heung, positions Nio to become “the dominant power in China,” in electric vehicles, at a time when EV adoption is surging, says the analyst. Even valuing the stock at a 25% discount to the prices investors are paying for its highest profile US rival, Tesla (on a price-to-sales basis), Heung feels these factors justify placing an $80.30 price target on Nio stock.

So, that’s Nomura’s view. Let’s have a look at what the rest of the Street has in mind for NIO shares. Based on 8 Buys and 6 Holds, the analyst consensus is a Moderate Buy. However, going by the $59.40 average price target, shares are anticipated to be changing hands at a 4% discount. (See NIO stock analysis on TipRanks)

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analyst. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.