Elon Musk said he’s considering taking Tesla Inc. private in a radical step that would ease pressure on the money-losing automaker.
The announcement, made via Twitter, stunned investors and sent Tesla’s stock price soaring as much as 8.5% before trading was halted. It followed the news that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund had built a less than 5% stake in Tesla worth about $2 billion.
And yet it also left many questions unanswered, namely how Musk would be able to come up with more than $50 billion to buy out other shareholders. Factoring in about $8.8 billion of debt, it would be the largest leveraged buyout in history, surpassing the Texas electric utility TXU in 2007. At $420 a share, Musk’s offer would value Tesla at about $82 billion including debt.
The Public Investment Fund, or PIF, acquired shares in Tesla over the last few months as part of its wider investment strategy, according to a person familiar with the transaction. Representatives for the Saudi fund weren’t immediately available for comment on the investment, which the Financial Times first reported earlier Tuesday. A Tesla spokesman declined to comment.
‘Lot of Noise’
Musk, 47, has a long history of bristling at the amount of scrutiny Tesla endures from investors and media. In an interview with Bloomberg News in January 2015, he spoke of the benefits of running his closely held rocket company Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and his frustrations with having taken Tesla public in June 2010.
“There’s a lot of noise that surrounds a public company and people are constantly commenting on the share price and value,” Musk said in 2015. “Being public definitely increases the management overhead for any given enterprise.”
Taking Tesla private “makes a ton of sense,” said Gene Munster, a managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures.
“Elon Musk does not want to run public companies,” Munster said. “His missions are big and make it difficult to accommodate investors quarterly expectations. Our guess is there is a 1 in 3 chance he can actually pull this off.”
Tesla shares were halted at 2:08 p.m. and were trading up 7.4% to $367.25. The rally falling well short of $420 is a sign of market skepticism that Musk taking the company private is possible.
Reaction in Tesla debt and derivatives also was muted, with the company’s 5.3% bond jumping 0.875 cent to 92.375 cents on the dollar about a minute after Musk tweeted.
“I’d like to see where they’re going to come up with the money for that,” Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst at Navigant Research, said of Musk taking Tesla private. “I can certainly understand why he would want to do that, given the complaints he’s had in the past year with short sellers and people betting against the company. So he certainly has good reason to want to take it private from a personal perspective. I’m not sure where he’s going to come up with the cash.”
By Dana Hull and Dinesh Nair