Wall Street and Washington have the same question for Elon Musk: Where’s the money?
Two days after he vowed on Twitter that he had “funding secured” for a spectacular $82 billion deal to take Tesla private, he has offered no evidence to back up the statement. No one has stepped forward publicly — or privately — to say they’re behind the plan. People with or close to 15 financial institutions and technology firms who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they weren’t aware of financing having been locked in before Musk’s tweet.
All of which could be problematic as the Securities and Exchange Commission starts investigating the matter. Regulators have asked the company if what Musk tweeted was factual and why such a disclosure was made via social media rather than in a filing, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Judith Burns, an SEC spokeswoman, declined to comment. Tesla also declined to comment.
“When Musk tweeted this, was he saying this was something that was definitely going to happen? Something that might happen?” said Ira Matetsky, a partner at Ganfer & Shore in New York, outlining questions the SEC might ask.
“How would a reasonable investor interpret that and was it consistent with the facts as they existed at the time?”
Tesla fell 0.8 per cent to $367.50 in trading before US exchanges opened Thursday — well below the $420 at which Musk said shareholders would be bought out.
The CEO raised the go-private possibility with the board last week, according to a statement from six of Tesla’s nine directors. They said he had “addressed the funding for this to occur,” without giving details.
The world’s most valuable company has long been floated as a possible acquirer — and with more than $240 billion in cash, it could finance several Tesla buyouts. But cars have much lower margins than iPhones and iPads.
In 2014, CEO Larry Page mused that he’d rather give his fortune to his good friend Elon Musk than to a traditional philanthropic cause. On the other hand, Page already owns a futuristic car company, Waymo.
Traditional buyout firms such as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Blackstone Group would be natural candidates to finance a megadeal. But they’ve historically preferred companies with lots of positive cash flow to support added debt payments — and big dividends.
The billionaire chairman of SoftBank has the biggest checkbook in Silicon Valley through his $100 billion Vision Fund. But Bloomberg reported that SoftBank’s interest in Tesla cooled after the two companies met in 2017.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund already owns less than 5 per cent of Tesla. The Chinese government has indicated an interest in investing in electric vehicles. But any foreign ownership attempt would likely rattle US regulators.