Tweeps vote: Elon Musk should sell $21bn Tesla stake

Elon Musk’s social media followers have spoken: The Tesla Inc chief should sell 10% of his stake in the electric carmaker.

A majority of 3.5 million Twitter users said they’d support the move in a poll that Musk launched Saturday when he floated the idea of selling the stock, which is valued at about $21 billion based on 170.5 million Tesla shares he holds. The poll closed shortly after 2:15 p.m. Sunday in New York, with about 58% of respondents backing the idea of the sale.

“I was prepared to accept either outcome,” Musk said in a tweet after the poll closed.

The crowd-sourcing exercise is the latest example of Musk’s long history of using Twitter and his legions of fans on the platform to stoke interest in his company, sometimes pushing the envelope with tongue-in-cheek tweets. The world’s richest person proposed the move in a tweet citing recent discussions about the ultra-wealthy hoarding unrealized gains to avoid paying taxes. Musk doesn’t take a salary, but has to pay taxes on any stock options that he exercises.

While large sales by insiders are often seen as a negative signal, a sale of this size won’t alter Tesla’s story in a meaningful way, said Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. Demand remains high for Tesla shares among both institutional and retail investors, he said. The unorthodox step of getting buy-in from fans and investors via a poll may also ease any concerns.

Read also: Elon Musk offers $6bn donation if UN can prove it’d end hunger

“Selling 10% is probably going to add 1.5% to 2% to the float, so it doesn’t really significantly move the needle,” Ives said in a phone interview. “I do believe that him doing it in this way definitely would soften the blow and would help the perception as well.”

Personal fortune

Musk’s fortune stands at $338 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. About one-quarter of that consists of Tesla stock options that he’s free to exercise at any time. The securities come from two big awards he received in 2012 and 2018. The older contracts expire in August next year.

If he exercised all of the options now and immediately sold the shares, they would net him $95.9 billion before taxes.

Musk may be signaling that he wants liquidity beyond the cash he’s secured by borrowing against his holdings in the EV maker. Last week he suggested he’d sell some stock if the UN could prove $6 billion could help alleviate world hunger. For years, Musk has said he would be the last to ever sell stock, and has often added to his position when Tesla has raised money from Wall Street so that his stake is not diluted.

Via Bloomberg Businessweek

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