Elon Musk defends Twitter distraction, again pledges to stop selling TSLA stock

Tesla CEO Elon Musk joined a Twitter space today to speak about the recent moves in TSLA stock and defends his recent actions from Tesla investors who have called for him to stop wasting time on Twitter, the social media site that he recently purchased.

Musk has faced many questions about his recent behavior with Twitter, as most of his public time recently has involved getting in fights with investors or trying to stop a routine spending bill.

Today he finally went into a public Twitter space to talk about these issues, including with Ross Gerber, the aforementioned investor with whom he has been feuding.

The main point of contention with Gerber has been regarding the source of TSLA’s recent price drop. Musk contends that fed interest rates are the primary contributor, both because it drives capital flight from equities and into safer bonds as bond yields go up, and because it suppresses demand for consumer products that are often bought with debt, such as autos (or, perhaps, Twitter itself, which Musk took on tens of billions in loans to buy).

But investment experts have countered the assertion that fed rates have driven TSLA stock’s fall, saying that Tesla’s performance has underperformed other stocks in the automotive sector even as bond yields have held steady. Surely they’ve had an effect, but Musk is perhaps overstating that effect.

Part of the difference could be related to Musk’s recent large sales of Tesla stock, having sold tens of billions over the course of the last year to fund his Twitter acquisition (aka disaster, aka dumpster fire). Generally, insider stock sales send a signal to the market that insiders, particularly the CEO, may not have full confidence in the company’s performance, and add negative pressure to a stock price.

Musk’s sales have happened in a high-profile way and for inopportune reasons, as well. Tesla investors don’t seem to see the upside of these stock sales for the future of Tesla, even though Musk says it will help the EV company in the long term.

Today, Musk stated that he wouldn’t sell any more stock:

I’m not selling any stock for, I dunno, a minimum of 18-24 months.  You can count on me, no stock sales until 2025 or something. I needed to sell some stock just to make sure there’s still some powder dry to account for a worst-case scenario… I won’t sell stock until probably two years from now. Definitely not next year under any circumstances. Probably not the year after either.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Dec 22, twitter space

However, Musk has said this many times before, and has still sold Tesla stock. Despite routinely saying he would be the last person to sell TSLA stock for the last decade, Musk has sold large chunks of stock several times over the last year. So investors may be glad to hear that he is done selling, but they’ve heard that before.

Musk also stated, “I’m somewhat paranoid having gone through two really intense recessions,” suggesting that his companies might want cash on hand to weather what he sees as an upcoming recession, or at least some sort of “macro drama.” This belief is likely behind Tesla’s hiring freeze and layoffs. Musk said, “If we do have another 2009 situation, the stock price of everything is gonna be lower.”

Given that Twitter is a private company wholly owned by him, and Musk’s wealth is largely concentrated in TSLA stock, we’re not sure what other major methods of fundraising are available to Musk to free up more “dry powder” other than selling more Tesla stock or taking on more debt.

On the contrary, Musk even talked about the possibility of a stock buyback. Despite his concern about a recession, he also stated that the stock price is currently low, and said his vote would be for a buyback. Though this statement was couched in the eventuality that we aren’t in another 2008-2009 recession situation, which Musk believes we might be going into.

While many have made note of Musk’s distractions with Twitter, he stated that “there’s not an important Tesla meeting I’ve missed the entire time. I’m not totally missing in action” and asked “is there anything I could have done in the last two months that would have helped with Tesla execution? I literally cant think of anything.” But he also referred to Twitter colorfully by stating “if you cross catnip with crack, that’s what Twitter is” – which is not exactly the sort of statement a person would make about something they aren’t addicted to.

Another question was asked by Earl Banning, known as 28delayslater on Twitter, a longtime investor and fan who referred to how Musk’s recent political statements have taken the shine off of Tesla for him and his family (including his children, one of whom is trans, a group that Musk’s tweets have recently negatively targeted). This is something we’ve seen in data, with Tesla losing popular support due to these divisive statements.

Musk said that he doesn’t hate trans people, and “doesn’t want to be a hater of anyone.” Banning attempted to ask a follow-up, but was cut off.

Electrek’s Take

Well, this was quite a spectacle. It was nice to see Musk back to focusing on Tesla for once, after so much nonsense related to Twitter for so long.

But it sort of sounded like he was saying whatever anyone wanted to hear. On the one hand, he thinks there will be a recession, and on the other hand, he thinks Tesla could do buybacks. On the one hand, he wants companies to have dry powder ready, but on the other hand, he absolutely will not sell stock in order to free up cash (as he has stated before, and then still sold stock).

Top comment by Cyrnel

Liked by 34 people

"No further TSLA sales planned after today"

Quite a stretch from stating "no further stock sales".

View all comments

So with this recent history of conflicting statements, it’s hard to take any of them seriously. However, the market seems to have been comforted by Musk’s words, as the stock went up about two and a half percent in after-hours trading, mostly after his statement that he won’t sell any more stock.

But as for our answer to one pointed question he asked on the call: “Is there anything I could have done in the last two months that would have helped with Tesla execution?”

Yes, there is something. As Gerber said, Tesla’s stock has been flagging lately because it has been running without the focus of its CEO. For Tesla to function correctly, it either needs a focused CEO who can aid it in execution (perhaps by stepping down from Twitter, as Musk promised, then reversed that promise), or at the very least a COO who can take the place of the CEO while the CEO is busy with their “catnip crossed with crack.”

SpaceX has this in COO Gwynne Shotwell, who has executed well for that company. Perhaps Tesla needs someone similar (potentially Tom Zhu, head of Tesla China?).

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Avatar for Jameson Dow Jameson Dow

Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for electrek.co since 2016.

You can contact him at jamie@electrek.co