Tag Archives: stock fraud

Just How Indebted Is Elon Musk?

Tesla continues to head south since hitting its post-earnings high of $321. It’s down nearly $100 from the $380 post “funding secured” tweet all-time high close on August 7th. The stock has diverged negatively from the SPX since mid-January. By all accounts the order-rate and delivery rate of Tesla’s 3 models is dropping quickly. While there may be a brief boost in sales from  Model 3 deliveries into Europe and China in Q1, it looks like Model 3 orders and deliveries in North America have slowed to a trickle. Complaints about the poor quality of the Model and poor service from Tesla are already populating European automobile forums.

There have been wide-spread reports from people who are having trouble getting canceled $1,000 reservation deposits on Model 3’s refunded. Several have reported receiving the refund only to have the check bounce after it’s deposited. Consumer Reports removed its highly sought recommendation rating from the Model 3 after citing poor quality control and reliabity. This past Wednesday Tesla’s General Counsel, who left his Washington, DC law practice and took the job two months ago, announced he was leaving the Company. The stream of high-level c-suite departures has been nearly continuous over the last year.

Tesla is staring at the $920 million convertible bond maturity due next Friday (March 1st). I have no idea how Tesla will address this, as it seems by many indicators that the $3.9 billion in cash Tesla posted on its year-end balance sheet may not be accurate, in addition to showing negative working capital of $1.7 billion. That said, I would not bet that Tesla will default this soon on its debt.

On Friday it was reported that Elon Musk took out $61 million in mortgages on his five California mansions, $50 million of which was new funding and $11 million was refinancing (note:  rumor of this deal was in the market a week earlier). Morgan Stanley underwrote the mortgages. I would suggest that Musk possibly needed the money to meet margin calls on his stock-holdings, against which Musk has borrowed heavily. Otherwise it makes no sense to me why an alleged billionaire would need to trifle with $61 million in mortgages. Morgan Stanley is one of Musk’s primary stock custodians. In that regard, I’m wondering if Morgan Stanley forced the issue.  It’s a good bet that Musk has pledged and hypothecated most of his assets as collateral against indebtedness. I have no doubt that when Tesla hits the wall, Musk’s wealth will largely vanish.

Elon Musk’s Legacy Of Unchecked Fraud Continues

At 5:15 p.m. on February 19th, Elon Musk tweeted that Tesla would produce 500,000 cars on 2019.  The headline hit news terminals globally. The stock jumped over $1 in after hours trading.  Four hours later Musk tweeted that he meant Tesla would be producing cars at an annualized rate of 500,000 by the end of 2019.  After-hours trading was closed when that “correction” hit Twitter.

The next morning the Wall Journal reports that Tesla’s General Counsel, Dane Butswinkas, is quitting Tesla to return to his law practice in DC – two months after he took the job. Butswinkas’ role at  was widely regarded to be Musk’s highly compensated Twitter babysitter per the terms of Musk’s SEC settlement related to Musk’s securities fraud “420 secured” tweet.

Tesla will rival Enron as the biggest stock fraud in this century, if not U.S. financial history.  To be sure it sells cars that generate revenues.  But the alleged profitability shown in Q3 and Q4 financials is likely nothing more that the product of GAAP accounting manipulation.  Elon Musk has been making promises and performance projections which fall miserably short of reality for several years.  He overtly violated securities laws with the $420 secured” tweet, which cost investors $10’s of millions of dollars – longs and shorts.

Tesla stock jumped on Monday, February 11th after analysts from Canaccord and Wedbush issued strong buys based on “strong demand for the Model 3,” putting absurd price targets on the stock. While both analysts’ analysis and opinions can be summarily dismissed based on gross negligence in presenting facts, you should be aware that the Canaccord analyst had a buy recommendation on Solar City stock from $53 in February 2015 all the way down to down $19.60 in May 2016. Tesla acquired Solar City in the summer of 2016 in a highly controversial deal,  likely fraudulent,  that has turned out to be an unmitigated  disaster.

I suspect the motive for both analysts’ arguably fraudulent stock reports is to generate demand for Telsa shares that can be used to unload shares on behalf of a large seller through both brokerage firms’ retail stock distribution network (brokers and investment advisors). T Rowe Price, formerly the largest shareholder outside of Musk,  cut its position in half during Q4, unloading 8.4 million shares. Insiders have been unloading shares non-stop, with not one insider purchase in the last 3 months.  Two of the most respected investors on Wall Street – Stanley Drukenmiller and Jim Chanos – are short Tesla.

With the tax credit cut in half January 1st and a growing reputation for poor quality control and even worse service, Tesla’s deliveries of all three models have literally plunged off a cliff since Q4. Officially Model 3 sales have dropped 60% for Q4. But sources that keep track of the numbers separately from the Company show a steeper drop-off in sales. As an example, the Marina Del Rey service center previously had been Tesla’s premier delivery center. But deliveries have dropped from average of 16 deliveries per day in Q4 to less than 1 per day in February through February 11th (2.1 deliveries per day in January). Sales in China and Europe have also fallen off a cliff, as superior competing EVs are becoming available.

The latest “500,000 production in 2019” tweet is the just latest in a long list of stunts pulled by Musk in an attempt to pump up the stock price. The departure of the General Counsel is one of many high level executive departures to leave in the last two years after spending just a brief tenure at the Company. Remarkably, the main stream financial media has little to no interest in investigating the nature of the circumstances of the executive departures or the unwillingness of regulators to keep Musk in check.

Tesla is perhaps the most egregious fraud in U.S. financial history.  It has been allowed to unfold out in the open, enabled by the complete lack of regulatory enforcement. Tesla and Elon Musk are emblematic of the unmitigated corruption that has engulfed the U.S. political, financial and economic system. Tesla’s saga represents the Government’s total disregard for Rule of Law. The message sent is that it is now open season for any person or entity with enough money to buy political protection to grab as much wealth as possible before the system collapses

Tesla: Can You Smell The Blood In The Water?

“The demand for – the demand for Model 3 is insanely high. The inhibitor is affordability. It’s just like people literally don’t have the money to buy the car. It’s got nothing to do with desire. They just don’t have enough money in their bank account.” – Elon Musk on the Q4 earnings conference call

The following commentary/analysis is from the February 3rd issue of the Short Seller’s Journal.

Tesla’s Failed Business Model – The statement above is an actual comment from Elon Musk on the earnings call. I literally had to ask a couple of people who were on the call if I had misread the transcript or if it was a mistake in transcription. I’m not sure if Elon erringly thought he was sharing profound insight into the laws of economics or if the relationship between price and demand eludes his understanding.

It was announced in late January, before Tesla posted earnings, that the Saudi Public Investment Fund had hedged its 4.9% investment in Tesla’s stock (8.33 million shares). It accomplished this via a structured note (OTC derivative) created by JP Morgan. In exchange for downside price protection, the Saudis gave up participation in any gains should Tesla’s shares rise in price. My guess is that the Saudis also paid a hefty transaction fee to JP Morgan on the order of 3-4% on the market value of the shares hedged.

It did not take long for the Saudi fund to abandon its investment in Tesla. The Saudi stake in Tesla was announced shortly after Tesla’s Q3 2018 earnings release. Musk’s infamous “funding secured” tweet was issued right after the Saudi stake was revealed to the public.

My best guess is that the 8.3 million shares where accumulated during July around an average price in the low $300’s. It’s also possible that one of the large U.S. fund holders sold a big block of shares that was crossed into the Saudi fund. Hard to say for sure but I would surmise that JP Morgan and/or Goldman Sachs (Tesla’s primary investment banks) know the truth.

If the hedging derivative was structured during the month before it was announced, the average price of the hedge is likely $320. Let’s assume the Saudis locked in a $20/share profit – $166 million. Netting out all trading and transaction fees (at a 3.5% fee, the derivative hedge would cost $93 million) the Saudi fund maybe netted about $60 million on the trade. But why did the Saudis bail on the investment after less than six months?

For me the demand/price comment exemplifies the Tesla tragicomedy. The Company reported its Q4 on Thursday after the market closed. Until the 10-K is release (40-60 days), I can not layout a detailed dissection of Tesla’s accounting games. But needless to say it appears as if Tesla’s CFO employed all of the same accounting schemes as were used in Q3 in order to manufacture a GAAP “net profit.” Notwithstanding this, the Company “missed” the Wall St consensus estimate and warned that it may or may not generate a profit in Q1 2019.

Speaking of the CFO, it was announced at the end of call – literally before the Company hung up the phone in order to avoid questions on the matter – that the CFO would be leaving the Company sometime in early 2019 though no specific date was set. He is to be replaced by a little-known 34-year old VP in the finance department, Zach Kirkhorn. Kirkhorn prior to Tesla was a “business analyst” McKinsey & Co. This is a fancy term for someone who helps design computerized enterprise applications for McKinsey clients. Prior to McKinsey, Kirkhorn worked at Microsoft.

Kirkhorn was a curious choice becasue he stunningly has little apparent experience in accounting and finance. Typically CFO’s have either worked their way up the accounting/controller side of a company or are hired from a similar role from the outside. This move left everyone scratching their head but reflects the general dysfunctionality that pervades the Company.

Telsa has experienced a stunning drop-off in orders since the end of 2018 that appears to have begun during late December. The $7500 tax credit was cut in half starting January 1st. Data from Europe show that EV sales fall off a cliff when the tax credit disappears. The chart to the right illustrates this by showing Tesla’s Model 3 sales over the last 12 months (from @TeslaCharts).

The jump in December M3 sales is a product of huge incentive programs Tesla implemented to stimulate sales ahead of the cut in the tax credit. As you can see, since July TSLA has averaged 20,000 unit sales per month. The January number is largely the expected cliff dive related to the drop in the tax credit. However, the large drop-off is also likely attributable to potential EV buyers waiting for the spring roll-out of the Audi E-Tron and Porsche Taycan. Porsche announced in January that it was doubling production in response to demand.

Briefly on Tesla’s numbers. Taking $139 million of net income attributable to stockholders at face value – i.e. assuming the accounting is 100% clean – nearly $100 million of that is from Tesla’s sale of greenhouse gas and zero emission vehicle credits. If we assume just $39 million worth of GAAP manipulation used to generate “income” (the real number is multiples of $39 milion) small amount of accounting games were used to generate GAAP “income,” reversing out the GHG/ZEV credits takes Tesla’s actual net income to zero. This means that the ability of Tesla’s business model to generate actual cash income is based solely energy credit sales. This is not a valid sustainable business model.

In the short term, the next big event is the maturity of the $920 million convertible bond due in March. It looks like Tesla’s stock price will be below the price at which bondholders will want to convert. Additionally, the deadline to reset the conversion price lower has passed. This suggests that Tesla will use cash to pay off the converts.

But here’s the problem:  At quarter end, Tesla’s balance sheet showed a working capital deficit (current assets minus current liabilities) of $1.7 billion.  Of the $8.3 billion in current assets, $3.6 billion is cash. However, of the $9.99 billion in current liabilities, $3.4 billion is accounts payable. It would appear that Tesla will be stiffing its suppliers, vendors and service providers if it uses the cash, as reported, to pay the converts.

I don’t know how Tesla will resolve this issue but I suspect the maturing bond will paid. Otherwise the Company will be forced to file for bankruptcy of some flavor. I don’t see this event happening until at least the end of 2019. This is why I moved my long-dated Tesla OTM puts out to June 2020.

Regardless of this immediate issue, I expect to see continued deterioration in Tesla sales across all three of its models. Snapshots from around the country from major metropolitan areas show lots full of unsold Teslas – all three models – with the inventory stored in these lots growing by the week.

Since I wrote the above analysis for the Short Seller’s Journal issue released this past Sunday, it was reported that Tesla has not received EU approval to sell Model 3’s with autopilot installed. Most of the Model 3’s pre-ordered in Europe were for the Model 3 with autopilot. This little factoid was in direct contradiction to the Company’s announcement, reiterated by Musk in the earnings letter to shareholders, that the Model 3 was fully approved in Europe.

There’s clearly something amiss with Tesla’s liquidity. It’s been reported by customers in Germany that Tesla is demanding full payment for Model 3’s ordered before the Company will deliver the vehicle. Perhaps a tempest in a teapot? A Model S owner who had canceled his Model 3 order and requested a refund of the $1000 deposit posted a copy of the refund check on Twitter – only Tesla had placed a “stop payment” on the check:  LINK

Meanwhile the Company has been laying of workers and cutting prices on feverishly on the Model 3. This is in response to a cliff-dive in demand since January 1st, especially in China. Based on this new evidence, I don’t know if Tesla will be able to make the $920 million convertible bond payment. I would seem possible, given the anecdotal evidence, that Tesla has misrepresented the cash balance on its year-end financials (unaudited as of December 31st). No one knows the answer to that question right now except the banks holding the alleged cash as shown on Tesla’s year-end balance sheet.

Whether or not Tesla can complete a financial hail Mary and address the convertible bond repayment, this company is circling the drain. As far superior competitive models hit the market, demand for Teslas could possibly disappear completely. The stock will drop to zero and the creditors will be left to fight for standing and priority in bankruptcy. I can smell that blood in the water.

In the Short Seller’s Journal I cover economic analysis combined with ideas for shorting the stock market, including market timing, capital management and the use of options.  In the latest issue I presented ideas for using puts to short Tesla, including full disclosure of my trades in the name.  You can learn more about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal.

Upper Management Exodus At Tesla Continues – Why?

Phil Rothenberg, VP of Legal at Tesla, is leaving the company.  He’s been at Tesla for nearly 8 years; previously worked at the SEC.  I assume Phil has a lot of stock and a lot of stock options, having been at the Company for eight years, including a nice chunk of options he’s leaving on the table because they will never vest.  If everything at the Company was as amazing as presented by Musk and his meat-puppet CFO in the 3rd quarter earnings report, why leave now?

Apparently Phil, trained in securities law,  would have been the designee of reviewing and monitoring Musk’s Tweets and other social media venues per the terms of the SEC settlement.   Jonathan Chang, the other VP-level lawyer at TSLA, was not a trained securities lawyer.  I have to believe that the potential legal liabilities connected to being legally responsible for overseeing the manner in which Musk operates as his own PR organization weighed heavily on Phil’s decision to flee Telsa’s corporate Sodom and Gomorrah.

Although the SEC, for whatever reason, let Musk and Tesla off the hook on a slam-dunk securities fraud case with a mere wrist-slap, the provisions of the settlement will likely create a sticky legal spider web that can be utilized to snare Musk and those around him at the Company on several counts down the road.  I am certain a desire to legally disconnect from Tesla/Musk  explains the sudden exodus of high-level executives in the past 12 months.

After Tesla’s post-earnings price spike, the torrid stock market run-up that started October 30th played a major role in keeping Tesla’s stock propped up over the last two weeks. At the beginning of the week after Tesla reported (Monday, October 29th) Tesla’s stock was about to sell-off. But the major stock market indices began to shoot up, keeping Tesla’s stock supported. Today’s action in Tesla stock reinforces this theory, as TSLA plunged 5.5% while the SPX dropped just under 2%. Tesla’s stock is going lower – a lot lower.

Tesla will eventually implode – all Ponzi schemes fail. But Musk has proven to be adept at kicking the can down the road. In the analysis I did of Tesla’s Q3 10-Q that I presented to my Short Seller’s Journal on Sunday evening, I didn’t drill down into the 10Q as thoroughly as I could have because of lack of time. But I’ve never seen this degree of manipulation in the numbers from a company the size and profile of Tesla. Bernie Madoff’s company was private so there were never publicly available numbers to scrutinize. Tesla’s operations will eventually collapse under the weight of liabilities and a collapse in auto sales related to the economy and competition.

SNAP Stock Just SNAPPED: Down 29% From Its March IPO

SNAP just reported earnings and plunged after hours after missing everything.  It burned through $288 million in cash.  The more it spends, the more it loses.  An operational Ponzi scheme of sorts.

The SNAP IPO was led by Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Credit Suisse and Allen & Company. All the usual criminal cartel banks aside from Allen & Company.  Allen & Company is a financial “advisor” – i.e. sleazy stock broker – driven firm based in Florida. I don’t know how Allen & Co. was put on as an underwriting manager other than it’s likely that one of SNAP’s co-founders is buddies with one of the owners at Allen & Co.

Speaking of SNAP’s two co-founders, each sold $272 million worth of stock into the IPO. It would be impossible to know if they sold knowing that anyone who bought the IPO, or has bought share since the IPO, is going to end up holding an empty bag. But I provided an in-depth analysis of SNAP to subscribers of the Short Seller’s Journal in which I concluded that SNAP would eventually go below $2.

I have to believe that the Einsteins at Morgan Stanley, Goldman et al had to know this. That being the case, I don’t know how the public issuance of SNAP shares is not fraud. The venture capital and private equity funds who invested in the early rounds were given an out by the public – a public that was lied to about SNAP’s future prospects.

As I finish this, SNAP is now below $12/share ($11.85).  It’s still a great short here.  If I have time to pour through the numbers, I’ll be updating the subscribers of the Short Seller’s Journal and lay out a course of action to short the stock from here.  You can learn more about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.  There’s no minimum subscription period and subscribers get a 50% discount on the Mining Stock Journal.