What to think of Tesla after the SEC fraud lawsuit
The SEC has sued that Elon Musk’s August tweets about taking the company private at $420/share were tantamount to fraud. Possible now is that Elon Musk will be stripped of his role as CEO and possibly as director.
The market has reacted by selling shares, dropping the stock from $307 to $269/share (at the time of this writing), or a decrease of 13%. Is this warranted? It depends on three factors:
1) What is Musk’s value to the company?
We covered this. It’s significant. He’s the chief everything. But his rocket company is sailing along fine under the leadership of Gwynne Shotwell, as Musk’s time is consumed at Tesla. Moreover, many of the issues Tesla now faces, especially for its Model 3, are matters of business and supply chain and financing. These are not Elon Musk’s forte.
2) What are the odds that he is removed from the company?
Given that the SEC already had a deal in place with Musk, and in that deal he was not removed as CEO, but was stripped of certain Board oversight, I’d say the odds are low. Musk pulled out of that deal, and intends to fight the charges, apparently. If the SEC was willing to settle once, I’d guess they’d settle again. Also, ostensibly the SEC is run by the executive branch, and Donald Trump is most definitely not against businessmen who do their manufacturing in the United States and who do their Tweeting late at night in a less than civil way.
Suppose the odds are 30% that Musk is removed from Tesla. To get to a -13% drop in the stock, that would mean that Musk is worth 40% of Tesla’s value. That’s too high. If folks think the chances are higher of Musk’s removal, that’s one thing. But you cannot both claim Musk is erratic and needs a mental health break, and think that he is so crucial to the company that he, himself, is worth nearly half of the company’s value. You have to choose one.
3) What other factors may be affected by this lawsuit?
Whether Tesla will need to raise more money seems like the biggest concern. That’s valid. But, it’s also worth re-checking the fundamentals: Tesla is making more and more cars that are blowing away the competition. Tesla has customers that become Apple-like fans and acolytes. Tesla has a waiting list of half a million people just to buy their very expensive car. Tesla can improve their pre-existing cars with a wireless software update in one click. Tesla is steadily rolling out Autopilot improvements, and it has more real-world miles driven in Autopilot mode than any other manufacturer and it’s not close. Also, it makes batteries that are changing how people use energy.