The past few months have been challenging for Tesla and Elon Musk. As the company attempted to make progress in its efforts to ramp the production of the Model 3, a consistent stream of attacks from short-sellers and critics, as well as aftereffects of Musk’s own behavior on Twitter, have weighed heavily on Tesla stock.
Amidst the constant stream of negative reports against the company coming from mainstream media, James Anderson, co-manager of Scottish Mortgage and a senior partner at Baillie Gifford in Edinburgh, noted that while some of Elon Musk’s actions, particularly against British diver Vernon Unsworth, were “ethically unacceptable,” the CEO is not really one of the biggest problems of the company. Rather, it is the prevalent — and at times aggressive — attacks it consistently receives from critics and short-sellers.
Anderson was recently featured in a segment of Citywire Money, where he discussed Tesla’s expenses as it ramped the Model 3, the peculiar amount of publicity given to TSLA short-sellers, and Elon Musk’s actions online. The Baillie Gifford senior partner noted that it wasn’t particularly surprising to his firm that Telsa is spending a lot as it grows, considering that the electric car maker is “building a car company in a completely different way with a completely new technology.”
That being said, the financial industry veteran opted to call out the media coverage of Tesla’s short-sellers and critics, who have been given a surprisingly generous amount of publicity. Anderson noted that the media needs to ask itself a lot of questions, particularly regarding the rhetoric of TSLA short-sellers, as well as their “vicious” hypothesis against the electric car maker.
“I feel the media in general needs to ask itself a lot of questions – which is the extraordinary level of publicity given to the claims and rhetoric of the absolutely vicious short investment hypothesis and individuals behind them. I think that they are not to be viewed as a beneficial force for allowing a convenient avenue to attack over enthusiasm,” Anderson said.
The Scottish Mortgage co-manager further noted that while some of Elon Musk’s actions on Twitter were ethically unacceptable, it should be noted that the actions of some of the company’s short-sellers and critics against Tesla and Elon Musk are just as unethical.
“I think these people try and make their claims come true in ways that to me seem. I said Mr. Musk behaved unethically — I believe many of these people do as well, and I do wish that many of our most prominent media personalities and institutions would examine the claims and records of many of these people. And in some cases there is a lot of evidence through court cases of just how malignant they can be,” he said.
Anderson’s observations about the behavior and prevalence of Tesla’s critics in the media are quite accurate. Rarely does a day go by, after all, when Tesla sees few negative stories about its business, or about Elon Musk himself. Last week, for example, the departure of Tesla’s CAO ended up being augmented by Elon Musk’s single whiff of cannabis during a podcast, causing the company’s stock to drop.
Even small-time Tesla short-sellers are beginning to gain support from mainstream media. Late last month, Reuters published a report celebrating the sleuthing work being conducted by several TSLA shorts, including an anonymous Twitter user known for posting misogynistic, aggressive, and racist comments against Tesla supporters. Michelle Price, one of the writers of the piece, later clarified in a follow-up Twitter post that they did multiple and varied checks on the anonymous TSLA short that they featured before considering the person as a valid source.
As of writing, Tesla shares (NASDAQ:TSLA), in which Baillie Gifford holds a 7.8% stake and which accounts for 5% of Scottish Mortgage assets, is trading up 1.67% at $294.27 per share.
Disclosure: I have no ownership in shares of TSLA and have no plans to initiate any positions within 72 hours.