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Tesla stock jolted as Elon Musk weathers ongoing turmoil

Elon Musk has attracted mounting concern over his leadership of Tesla. (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg News)

Tesla’s stock wobbled Monday as its embattled CEO Elon Musk doubled down on his leadership of his multibillion-dollar empire -- and has slipped 18.7 percent since his Aug. 7 tweet in which he floated the idea that he would push to take Tesla private.

The electric car company’s stock was up nearly 1 percent in trading Monday after spending most of the day in the red. The tweet triggered questions from federal investigators, shareholders and board members as well as greater scrutiny of Tesla’s ongoing production issues, rising debt and Musk’s own erratic behavior and leadership style.

The enormous task ahead for Tesla’s board

As Musk has garnered a swirl of negative headlines, Tesla’s stock price has bounced around but has lost ground over the past year. The price per share was about $338 this time a year ago and closed at $308 on Monday.

On Monday, JPMorgan said it expected Tesla shares to continue to fall for the rest of 2018 following Musk’s announcement about taking Tesla private. In a note, its analyst said an “interpretation of subsequent events” after Musk’s Aug. 7 tweet “leads us to believe that funding was not secured ... nor was there any formal proposal.” JPMorgan is scaling its December price target for company shares back to $195 from $308.

“Tesla does appear to be exploring a going private transaction, but we now believe that such a process appears much less developed than we had earlier presumed (more along the lines of high level intention),” the note said.

Still, the stock price is high enough that shareholders won’t lose faith in Tesla, said David Whiston, an equity analyst at Morningstar. Tesla will probably have to resolve whether it has secured the funding to go private before the stock can steadily climb back up, Whiston said. And despite his antics, Musk is not scaring off investors.

“As long as you have Elon, you have a lot of slack,” Whiston said. “You have a lot of leeway with the capital markets because you either believe in him or you don’t, and right now, a lot of people believe in him.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

The downward slope since the Aug. 7 “funding secured” tweet echoed other instances in which Tesla’s stock has taken a hit after surprise moves from Musk.

For example, on a Sunday in mid-July, Musk took to Twitter to say that a British cave explorer who played a crucial role in saving 12 Thai soccer players trapped in a flooded cave was a pedophile. The Friday before, Tesla’s stock had closed at $318. 87 per share. When trading resumed on Monday after the “pedo” tweet, Tesla’s stock closed at $310.10 a share.

In another instance, Musk sent out a series of tweets -- on April Fools' Day -- joking that his electric car company had gone bankrupt. The Friday before, Tesla’s stock price had closed at $266.13. On the Monday after the fake bankruptcy tweet, the stock closed at $252.48.

But Musk has proven skilled at using social media to divert attention from Tesla’s other ongoing challenges and keep people focused on the company’s aspirations. One former Tesla employee -- now a co-founder of the automotive-tech firm Peloton Technology -- told The Post’s Drew Harwell that Musk was “not unlike the president of the United States” in his use of the media.

Last week, Musk gave insight into the extremes of his work and personal life, detailing to the New York Times — at times crying and laughing — their tolls on his physical health and relationships. He said he had been working up to 120 hours per week and had not taken more than a week off in 17 years. Sometimes, he wouldn’t leave the Tesla factory for three or four days, he told the Times.

On Friday, Arianna Huffington — who collapsed from exhaustion in 2007 and has since become a crusader for the importance of sleep — penned an open letter to Musk asking him to “apply that same passion for science not just to your products but to yourself. People are not machines.”

Just after 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Musk responded, saying that “Ford & Tesla are the only 2 American car companies to avoid bankruptcy."

“I just got home from the factory,” he wrote. “You think this is an option. It is not.”