The Ongoing Tesla Saga: Elon Musk’s Stake and Tweets

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The ongoing Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) saga keeps offering new twists and turns for both the company and its shareholders. The good news is that founding CEO Elon Musk has settled with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and will step down as chairman, and the company and Musk are each going to pay a $20 million civil penalty.

Musk will remain CEO, and the settlement set a period of three years before the board will be able to reappoint him as chair, if it is approved by a majority vote of stockholders at that time. That would put a timeframe of late-2021 before he could again be board chair of the company he founded.

What will matter looking forward is that Musk’s settlement note also includes a new investment on his part and also outlines some issues that may be designed at curtailing or policing his use of Twitter and other social media and media events.

The SEC filing that disclosed the terms of the settlement also noted at the end that Musk will spend the same amount of money in the settlement to buy even more common shares of Tesla:

Separate and apart from the settlement, Elon has notified Tesla that he intends to purchase from Tesla, and Tesla expects that it will issue and sell to Elon, $20 million of Tesla’s common stock during the next open trading window at the then-current market price.

And Musk’s erratic tweets, even above and beyond taunting the SEC and the “funding secured” tweet, may start to come under more control. The SEC filing said the settlement also included hiring or assigning an experienced securities lawyer regarding communications and other critical issues:

Further enhance controls with respect to Elon’s public communications regarding Tesla and to pre-approve any such written communications that contain, or reasonably could contain, information material to Tesla or its stockholders… Employ or designate from among its existing personnel an experienced securities lawyer, subject to approval by the Staff, to advise on securities issues relating to Tesla and to ensure compliance with Tesla’s disclosure policy and controls, including by reviewing management’s public communications in a manner that is consistent with such policy and controls.

The importance of the terms of the settlement matter on the investment or on the curtailing of his media and social media behavior may vary from shareholder to shareholder. It’s important to keep in mind that Musk had reportedly purchased another $24.9 million stake (some 72,500 shares) back in June of this year, and earlier in 2018 he spent another $10 million buying shares.

And as far as what a $20 million purchase means in the grand scheme of things, Musk already owned about 19% of the outstanding shares of Tesla.

Musk hates the short sellers in Tesla. After all, “How dare they bet against the changing world and the Musk vision?” is how he has communicated against short sellers. The most recent short interest data, as of September 28, showed that some 33.63 million Tesla shares were held short — which would take 3.25 days to cover and is more than 26% of the outstanding shares. That said, short sellers have a larger bet against the success of Tesla than Musk has betting on its future.

Tesla shares have been quite volatile of late, and Wednesday’s early trading showed the stock looking for direction, above and below Tuesday’s closing price of $276.59. Tesla has a 52-week trading range of $277.37, and its consensus target price of $314.52 is derived from the mean of analyst target prices as low as $190 and as high as $500.