Investor's Corner

Elon Musk’s near-$10M TSLA investment makes his battle with short-sellers personal

On Monday afternoon, Tesla CEO Elon Musk purchased nearly $10M in Tesla stock (NASDAQ:TSLA). Just a week after an eventful earnings call with analysts and a Youtuber, Musk added 27,097 shares of Tesla to his portfolio. To add some perspective, that’s just .08% of Musk’s total 33,665,421 shares in the company, worth north of $10.2B.

Musk’s stock purchase today wasn’t about increasing his ownership in the company; he has a hefty stock compensation plan for that. Musk was sending a message to the short-sellers of TSLA. The number of short-sellers has surpassed Musk’s holding for the first time in history, now rumored to be near 40M shares.

As of the last reporting date, 4/9/18 (available on 4/24/18), there were 38,258,654 shares held short in the company. That’s the highest in Tesla’s history, making the electric car maker the most shorted company by the amount of equity at stake. There will be an update on the total size of the Tesla short position this Wednesday after markets close, so stay tuned.

While this is nothing new for Tesla, Musk is starting to take it personally. His company is being hit every which way in the media, and that doesn’t feel good. I mean, Bloomberg created a graphic of Musk burning cash with his own flamethrowers, that can’t feel good.

Bloomberg’s Graphic depicting Musk burning Tesla’s cash with his own ‘Boring Company’ flamethrowers.

Graphic: Bloomberg/Getty Image (Animation: Hannah Recht for Bloomberg)

Typically over the past few years, Musk has made several statements acknowledging the high-value the market has placed on his company. Musk’s tone changed last week.

Oh and uh, short burn of the century coming soon. Flamethrowers should arrive just in time,” Musk tweeted after the company announced they had burned upwards of $1B in free cash flow. 

So why should short sellers believe Musk?

Valid question. The very notion of a short position makes it clear they do not believe in Musk. But history is on Musk’s side.

Let’s flashback to April 2013. At the time, I owned shares at Tesla, purchasing the stock just 8 months earlier, shy of $30/share. This was when the Model S production ramp issues and cash burn plagued Tesla’s stock. But on April 1, 2013, Tesla told investors that they should expect a quarterly profit to be reported for the first quarter. The stock shot up 16% that day and continued to rally for several months, gaining 455% over the next 6 months.

Just before these massive gains, Musk warned in a Fox Business interview that he thinks “it is very unwise to be shorting Tesla, it’s very unwise. There is a tsunami of hurt coming for the shorts.”

Musk is again facing similar challenges with the Model 3 — production ramp issues, a media blitz, and a massive amount of cash being burned. While it is still to be seen if Musk and the Tesla team of 42,022 employees can impress investors, I certainly wouldn’t be sleeping comfortably with a Tesla short position.

When asked on Twitter how this ‘upcoming pain’ for shorts compares to the last round, Musk responded with, “It will be next level. These are really big numbers.”

Disclaimer: This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Teslarati and its owners. Christian Prenzler does not have a position in Tesla Inc. or any of its competitors and does not have plans to do so in the next 30 days.

Elon Musk’s near-$10M TSLA investment makes his battle with short-sellers personal

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