Tesla is making a risky move by issuing $1.5 billion in debt

• Tesla said it would issue $1.5 billion in unsecured notes.

• Issuing new debt deviates from previous equity-based capital raises.

• The carmaker has added substantial debt to its balance sheet since its SolarCity merger last year.

 Tesla announced on Monday that it would raise $1.5 billion in additional capital, but do so differently than previous funding rounds: by issuing debt.

When Tesla has raised money over the past two years, it has sold more stock. And with the company seeing a massive uptick in its share price over the first half of 2017, much discussion has swirled around whether CEO Elon Musk and his management team would head back to the public markets for more.

The stock is now up 65% in the year to date. So at one level, selling more stock makes sense, but that would test the patience of existing investors, who would see their stakes further diluted.

On Tesla’s second-quarter earnings call with analysts, Musk telegraphed his intent:

“There may be some wisdom in having a cash cushion for unexpected events. You just never know if there’s going be some significant force majeure events in the world. It could be an earthquake in California, for example. But we’re not at this point considering an equity raise. We are thinking about debt, but we’re not thinking about an equity raise.”

You can question the wisdom of this, but the decision has been made. Here’s the release from the company:

“Tesla today announced that it intends to offer, subject to market and other conditions, $1.5 billion in aggregate principal amount of its senior notes due 2025 (the ‘Notes’). The Notes will be senior unsecured debt obligations of Tesla. The interest rate, redemption prices and other terms of the Notes are to be determined.”

Tesla says it intends to use the net proceeds from this offering to further strengthen its balance sheet during this period of rapid scaling with the launch of Model 3 and for general corporate purposes.

Tesla’s projected cash burn for the second half of 2017 is about $2 billion, which would leave the company with what it considers a comfortable $1 billion in reserve on the balance sheet.

But the bond sale suggests Tesla doesn’t want to start 2018 by cutting into that reserve. The critical issue for investors to consider here is the effect that adding another $1.5 billion will have on Tesla’s already increased debt levels since its acquisition of SolarCity in late 2016.

With the offering, the carmaker will have tacked on an extra $4.5 billion in liabilities in less than a year.

Get the latest Tesla stock price here.

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