Investor's Corner

Tesla board curbs doubts from critics as Elon Musk’s privatization plan starts forming

Tesla stock (NASDAQ:TSLA) is still feeling the aftermath of Elon Musk’s bombshell on Tuesday, when he announced on Twitter that he is considering taking Tesla private. Tesla’s shares were already on a roll prior to Musk’s update, climbing 5% amidst reports that a Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund has taken a $2 billion stake in the company earlier this year.

Musk’s announcement was met by a surge in the company’s stock price that resulted in TSLA closing the day up 11% and trading at $379.57 per share, as Tesla’s investors speculated about what could happen to shareholders if the company does go private. The CEO clarified in later tweets that current shareholders of the company would be able to keep their positions even as Tesla becomes private. Before markets closed for the day, Tesla also shared a letter that Musk wrote to employees describing his reasons for his initiative to privatize the company.

It remains to be seen if Tesla would be able to hit its $420 per share target, considering that the company’s stock has a notorious reputation for being incredibly volatile. Nevertheless, Baird Equity Research recently published a note stating that Tesla would hit and likely overshoot the $420 mark. In the note, analysts Ben Kallo and David Katter noted that the company’s shares would probably go even higher as investors demand a steeper premium than $420.

“We think some shareholders may demand a steeper premium than the $420 mark, and we think shares could move higher as shorts cover and investors demand a higher price to go private. Based on our recent conversations with investors, we think shareholders will demand a higher price for a potential go-private transaction, which could cause shares to trade above $420, particularly as shorts may cover positions. We expect the stock to move higher as the story develops,” the analysts wrote.

Elon Musk’s letter to employees about Telsa’s possible privatization mentioned that the company works best when it is focused on executing its goals and pursuing its long-term mission, and in a setup when “there are no perverse incentives for people to try to harm what (the company is) trying to achieve.” Musk, who has never been one to back down from what he believes are attacks against his companies, has found himself at loggerheads with critics multiple times over the past few months — in interactions that sometimes end with Musk and Tesla being worse for wear.   

Taking the company private seems to be a move that is at least partly motivated by a desire to get rid of short-sellers and other entities that are betting on Tesla to fail. By making Tesla private, Musk is forcing the company’s staunchest short-sellers and critics to cover their positions. Without short-sellers around, there is far less incentive for Tesla’s critics to keep attacking the company.  

One such allegation that could have been avoided easily had the company been private is a recent bear thesis that emerged following Elon Musk’s announcement yesterday. In the aftermath of Tesla’s 11% surge, speculations emerged suggesting that Elon Musk probably did not consult the board of directors about his plans of going private. This particular thesis was curbed promptly by Tesla when it released a statement from six members of the board confirming that they are fully aware of Musk’s privatization efforts for the company.

“Last week, Elon opened a discussion with the board about taking the company private. This included discussion as to how being private could better serve Tesla’s long-term interests, and also addressed the funding for this to occur. The board has met several times over the last week and is taking the appropriate next steps to evaluate this.”

If Tesla pulls off Elon Musk’s initiative to make the company private, it will go down as the biggest buyout in history, and by a wide margin at that. At Elon Musk’s $420 target, Tesla would be privatized for about $70 billion. The current record is held by TXU Corp., which was bought by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co for $31.8 billion back in February 2007.

Tesla shares are up around 22% this year, outperforming the 7% gains of the S&P 500 and the 3.7% gains of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

As of writing, Tesla shares are trading -1.33% at $374.54 per share.

Disclosure: I have no ownership in shares of TSLA and have no plans to initiate any positions within 72 hours.

Tesla board curbs doubts from critics as Elon Musk’s privatization plan starts forming
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