Elon Musk’s feud with Tesla shorts is not business, it’s just personal.
One month ago, after lashing out at some vast, anti-Tesla conspiracy (technically, he has a point, Tesla is the most shorted US stock for good reason) in the aftermath of the company’s bizarre earnings call debacle Musk first warned shorts that “oh and uh short burn of the century comin soon. Flamethrowers should arrive just in time“, then followed it up just hours later with another taunt on the coming short squeeze which “Looks like sooner than expected. The sheer magnitude of short carnage will be unreal. If you’re short, I suggest tiptoeing quietly to the exit”…
Looks like sooner than expected. The sheer magnitude of short carnage will be unreal. If you’re short, I suggest tiptoeing quietly to the exit … https://t.co/A0Q90pSLKA
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 5, 2018
… on May 7, Musk tripled down, and put money where his trash-talking mouth is, revealing that in a clear attempt to create an upside burst in an illiquid market, Musk bought about $9.85 million worth of Tesla shares in the pre-market just so his limited purchase could have the most outsized impact possible on the price, and force a burst of short-covering which has become Musk’s favorite way of keeping the stock levitating above its “intrinsic value.”
Things were going ok, with Musk making some vague promises that Model 3 production is ramping up, creating yet another short squeeze, when on Tuesday Musk dropped a bomb when Tesla announced it was firing 9% of its salaried workforce in a drastic cost-cutting measure for a company which has never until now bothered with limiting expenses, and after a bizarre admission to shareholders that “Given that Tesla has never made an annual profit in the almost 15 years since we have existed, profit is obviously not what motivates us”… and adding that “what drives us is our mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable, clean energy, but we will never achieve that mission unless we eventually demonstrate that we can be sustainably profitable“
Difficult, but necessary Tesla reorg underway. My email to the company has already leaked to media. Here it is unfiltered: pic.twitter.com/4LToWoxScx
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 12, 2018
The stock promptly tumbled on fears that TSLA is no longer a growth stock but merely yet another cost-conscious value proposition, one which has to build a few dozen million cars in the next several years to be even remotely challenging to the established auto industry.
But not for long, because fast forward to today when with the stock red in the premarket then mysteriously spiking back green despite the biggest mass layoff event in its history – not to mention the launch of “not a flamethrower” – Musk has done it again, and literally tripled down in his crusade against the company’s short sellers when he bought $24.9 million in TESLA stock, or 72,500 shares, with the bulk of the stock purchased yesterday, and another roughly 15,000 shares purchased today at a price between $342.78 and $347.00.
This was his biggest purchase of TSLA shares since March 2017.
What is notable is that Musk no longer even pretends that he is looking for value, purchasing $25MM in stock when it is trading near the highest level of the year, unlike his latest purchase when he could at least claim to be getting a discount.
In some ways the lack of a “value investor” facade is refreshing: for Musk, who is already Tesla’s largest shareholder with a stake approaching 20%, the Wednesday purchase was merely theatrical – and he knew it – and meant to strike even more fear among the shorts. The only question is whether it was funded with yet more margin loans from Morgan Stanley.
And no, this is not a joke: Elon Musk has personally borrowed $624 million in loans from various investment banks as of March 2017- first mostly Goldman, then mostly Morgan Stanley – as of a year ago to buy Tesla stock. And as we calculated last week, if one factors in his Boring investment as well as various other “sundry expenses”, the next public disclosure will likely have Musk at around $800MM in personal borrowings from banks…
… which as discussed recently, when applying to new collateral requirements instituted by Tesla’s Board, would require some $3.2B worth of stock. And with 13.775M Tesla shares pledged…
… that implies that at a share price below $232.30 (assuming a current balance of $800 million), Musk would face either a margin call or the need to post additional shares as collateral. (For context, in April, the stock dipped as low as the $244s). For more details please read “Will Elon Musk Be the Next CEO to Face A Margin Call Death-Spiral?”
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