Tesla shareholders may be experiencing déjà vu this week watching the company’s stock fall on the news that Elon Musk said he’d buy Twitter at the original offer price after all. He had previously tried to back out of buying the company, but Twitter sued him to go through with the purchase.
The drop was not as precipitous as it was earlier this year — a 1.5 percent decrease this week versus a 12-point slide last April, wiping $125 billion off the electric automaker’s market valuation. It wasn’t clear if this week’s price drop was because of the Twitter news or residual mockery from the reveal of Tesla’s humanoid robot last week.
Tesla is a loose collection of vibes and feelings around Musk’s pole position as a prognosticator
But Tesla is more than its share price; it’s a company that makes cars, pretty cool cars by most accounts. It’s also a loose collection of vibes and feelings around Musk’s pole position as a prognosticator about robots, self-driving cars, Martian colonies, and other far-flung fantasies about the future. And the company’s retail shareholders are traditionally pretty forgiving when he strays outside his lane into more controversial subjects.
How much multitasking is too much?
Until he can perfect cloning technology, Musk is still just one person who will soon (maybe for real this time) add another company to the long list of public and private ventures he already fronts. In addition to Tesla, Musk is CEO of SpaceX and oversees tunneling venture The Boring Company, brain chip venture Neuralink, and research lab OpenAI, all of which contribute to a growing sense that Musk may have too many plates spinning at one time.
Tesla is the only public company where investors can register their feelings about Musk, and so far, Wall Street doesn’t appear overly concerned about his multitasking. (At SpaceX, he has Gwynne Shotwell, the long-serving chief operating officer.) But Musk has long been the public face of Tesla, with his own vast fortune linked almost exclusively to the automaker’s market valuation.
Tesla is the only public company where investors can register their feelings about Musk
Tesla turned a profit of over $3 billion in the first quarter and is on track to sell 2 million vehicles this year. Musk has said he aims to sell 20 million electric cars by 2030, which would make it larger than Toyota and Volkswagen combined. Any other company with such ambitions would require a full-time CEO to execute this vision.
“I think the question that just keeps coming up is just how much can Elon Musk really take on at this point,” said Jessica Caldwell, director of insights at auto research firm Edmunds. “Tesla has been wildly successful thus far. It has an uphill battle ahead of it now that it’s finally going to get actual, real competition from automakers who have a long expertise in production.”
Who will run Twitter?
In the past two years, Tesla has opened factories in Shanghai and Berlin as well as a second US-based Gigafactory outside of Austin, Texas, where the ribbon was cut at a garish “Cyber Rodeo” event by Musk himself.
It’s not clear how involved Musk plans on being in Twitter’s day-to-day operation. Loup Ventures analyst Gene Munster predicted that he was unlikely to spend too much time at the San Francisco-based social media company, as evidenced by his attempts to wriggle out of the deal.
“I think it is less likely that he invests a substantial amount of his time into Twitter,” Munster told CNBC. “He has to put on a good face today [but] he clearly doesn’t want this asset.”
Some of that may be wishful thinking, though. Musk has proclaimed that he has “a ton of ideas” for Twitter that will be “maximum amazing.” At this point, Twitter has yet to drop its lawsuit, and there is still a trial scheduled. Musk is a uniquely unpredictable character and could certainly try to slip out of the deal before it closes. But if the deal does go through and he becomes the new owner of Twitter, Tesla could see a range of challenges arise as its CEO embarks on yet another time-consuming venture.
We do know there is one person who won’t be the new CEO of Twitter, as revealed by Musk’s texts: Jack Dorsey.
Will Musk sell more stock?
Musk’s stock in Tesla forms part of the complex, hastily assembled funding for the Twitter deal, too. He has pledged $12.5 billion from a loan secured against his Tesla shares as part of a package that also includes $13 billion of debt from banks and $21 billion in cash.
He sold $8.4 billion of his shares in April, tweeting at the time, “No further TSLA sales planned after today.” Then, in August, after he made it clear he wanted out of the deal, he sold even more stock: $6.9 billion to be exact. He tweeted the sale was in “the (hopefully unlikely) event that Twitter forces this deal to close *and* some equity partners don’t come through.” Musk says he wanted to avoid an emergency stock sale, which could have sent the share price plummeting.
“Look what this lawsuit is doing to Twitter’s stock. There’s no way this wouldn’t affect Tesla,” said Anat Alon-Beck, an assistant law professor at Case Western Reserve University who has been following the Musk-Twitter saga closely. “There are definitely going to be swings, up and down. If the public is unhappy with him, it’s going to drop. If the public is happy, there will be an uptick. Right now, it’s very volatile.”
“There’s no way this wouldn’t affect Tesla”
Tesla’s internal communications were also subpoenaed by Twitter in the run-up to the court battle. It also requested materials related to the $6.25 billion margin loan commitment that Musk took out in May. The Tesla CEO had originally planned to take out a $12.5 billion margin loan but later reduced it to $6.25 billion after bringing in co-investors on the deal.
Before the Twitter deal, Tesla’s stock soared so high it almost seemed disconnected from the actual business of making and selling cars. And this summer, the company approved a three-way stock split to make shares cheaper for buyers. Whether it falls in price more will depend a lot on whether Musk needs to sell more of his own shares to finance the deal.
Which governments have influence?
There have also already been questions about China’s sway over Musk and how that could affect his management of Twitter. The company’s Shanghai factory accounted for nearly half of Tesla’s manufacturing last year, and China is one of the biggest markets for electric vehicles. The country has control over many of the minerals that power Tesla’s battery packs and much of the supply chain runs through China. Former government officials have said that Musk’s access to Twitter’s personal user data, combined with China’s influence, is “a significant national security concern,” according to The Washington Post.
A Musk-owned Twitter could also run into obstacles in the European Union
A Musk-owned Twitter could also run into obstacles in the European Union, where new content moderation rules could stymie Musk’s “free-speech absolutist” aims for the platform. Earlier this year, the EU approved the Digital Services Act, which will force tech companies to take greater responsibility for content that appears on their platforms. It’s unclear how Musk would respond to these new obligations to take down illegal or violent content and take stricter action on the spread of misinformation — or whether Tesla’s Berlin-based Gigafactory could get drawn into any dispute between the bloc and the billionaire.
“Tesla has done pretty amazing things that weren’t really even imaginable when they very first started out,” Caldwell said. “But it’s easily lost in the Elon Musk drama.”