Here’s How Elon Musk Landed Himself And Tesla In The Fed’s Doghouse

Chris White | Energy Reporter
  • SEC’s lawsuit against Elon Musk could have long-lasting effects on Tesla.
  • Elon Musk had a chance to avoid an SEC lawsuit, but chose to fight instead.
  • Analysts warn Tesla investors to prepare for a Elon Musk-less future.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s belligerent behavior toward the company’s short-sellers and his questionable social media activity ultimately raised enough red flags for the federal government to take notice.

The Securities and Exchange Commission sued Musk Thursday for fraud after he told his Twitter followers in an Aug. 7 post that he had enough funding to take Tesla private. Tesla could have avoided the headache had Musk settled the case instead of fight, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. (RELATED: TESLA’S STOCK TUMBLES AFTER ELON MUSK’S FAILED ATTEMPT TO GO PRIVATE)

Musk denied the charge in a statement.

“Integrity is the most important value in my life and the facts will show I never compromised this in any way,” he said.

But some aren’t buying it. Analysts have been warning for months that something like this might happen, with some suggesting Musk’s erratic behavior was a ticking timebomb.

Musk, the titular head of the company, plays fast and loose with the facts, some analysts say. He told investors in May 2016, for instance, that he expected Tesla to produce between 100,000 and 200,000 Model 3 sedans in the second half of 2017. The Silicon Valley company made a fraction of that number. Still, the company’s followers consider the CEO indispensable to the company.

A New York Post report published in August suggested Tesla employees claim Musk uses a mixture of reality-distortion fields and trick-mirrors to keep Tesla from imploding. One source inside the company told the paper that Musk never appears interested in the practicality of some of the promises he makes to Tesla neophytes on Twitter. These techniques help him keep the ball moving.

But since SEC’s lawsuit could result in the removal of Musk as not only the CEO but also the president, investors must now confront the possibility that his presence is a net negative. Tesla’s debt has exploded to more than $10 billion, and the company continues burning cash at a rate of about $1 billion a quarter.

Tesla will also need to account for a $230 million convertible bond by November if its stock doesn’t reach a conversion price of $560.64, and a $920 million convertible note in March 2019 if the stock doesn’t reach $359.87. Shares traded at $270.90 in after-hours trading on Thursday following the SEC’s lawsuit.

Analysts say Tesla investors should start hedging their bets — consider pegging their investments to a Musk-less company.

“That point may be approaching,” Adam Jonas, an analyst at Morgan Stanley who at one time was one of Tesla’s biggest bulls, cautioned investors earlier in September. “An investment in Tesla shares should incorporate a long-term horizon and should be agnostic to whether Elon Musk remains CEO of the company.”

Others have long claimed the company’s fortunes are almost completely dependent on Musk’s whims. His vision is so far beyond what Tesla is capable of producing, Matt Stack, the co-founder of Devonshire Research Group, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in 2016 before Musk fused the electric vehicle company with another one of his projects, SolarCity.

Musk’s knock-down, drag-out battles against Tesla’s are legendary. Some short-sellers say the tech guru frequently works to destroy their lives. (RELATED: Elon Musk Catches Flak For Allegedly Using Mafia Tactics To Silence A Tesla Critic)

A self-proclaimed investment strategist known online only as “Montana Skeptic,” for instance, claimed in a July blog post that Musk obtained his private information after Tesla devotees doxxed him and published the information online. Montana voluntarily stepped away from publishing about Tesla to protect his employer from possible legal ramifications if Musk did decide to sue.

Montana made the accusation less than a week after Twitter user @shortshorterhmm published his personal information online. He has tangled with Tesla fans in the past, including inserting himself into a drawn-out social media spat with journalist Dan Neil, who gave the Tesla Model 3 a positive review in a July 19 editorial for TheWSJ. Neil dinged his Twitter account shortly after the July 20 interaction.

It is not yet clear what will happen to Musk or Tesla, but financial experts on Wall Street say the company will suffer no matter the end result.

“There’s little question that Mr. Musk’s departure would likely cause harm to Tesla’s brand, stakeholder confidence and fundraising,” Citibank rote in a note Friday. “If Mr. Musk ends up staying on, the reputational harm from this might still prevent the stock from immediately returning to ‘normal.'”

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