SAN FRANCISCO — Elon Musk is the world’s richest person, estimated by Forbes to be worth $270 billion.
Musk owns a more than 20 percent stake in Tesla, according to analysts, which is where most of that wealth is tied up. He can’t turn it into cash easily, although he did sell a significant chunk of his Tesla stock last year, including $5 billion over several days.
All of that means instead of spending his vast wealth, he treats his shares in his companies as collateral. Like using property to back a loan, Musk at times last year had put more than half of his Tesla shares down as collateral, according to financial filings, worth tens of billions of dollars.
“If Elon Musk were forced to sell shares of our common stock that he has pledged to secure certain personal loan obligations, such sales could cause our stock price to decline,” Tesla warned in its annual filing.
“We are not a party to these loans,” Tesla wrote, adding that if its stock price declines, banks could force Musk to sell off shares to meet his loan obligations. That could send overall stock prices cratering.
But Musk plans to leverage himself further to buy Twitter, according to analysts and public filings.
Musk made public this week his financing plan to acquire the social media platform he says he wants to help serve as the public town square, where he communicates daily with his more than 80 million followers.
He outlined $46.5 billion he secured in funding to buy the social media company. More than half stems from loans from Morgan Stanley and other banks. But $21 billion will stem from his personal wealth.
That has Tesla investors concerned about the implications of his proposal to put Tesla shares on the line to buy Twitter.
And the massive amount of risk — especially after Tesla has shattered market expectations — left some financial analysts puzzled.
“You’re giving away caviar to buy a hot dog on the street in New York City,” Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives said Thursday.
Musk did not respond to a request for comment.
Last year, a financial filing detailed that of his more than 170 million shares in Tesla — which would be valued at more than $170 billion today — more than half were put down as collateral to secure loans.
Musk’s financial maneuvering has at times surprised investors and drawn the ire of regulators. The Tesla CEO famously declared in 2018 he had “Funding secured” at $420 a share to take Tesla private. He later paid a $20 million fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission for the tweet and had to give up his board chairmanship of Tesla.
I am selling almost all physical possessions. Will own no house.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 1, 2020
Musk tweeted one minute later that Tesla’s stock valuation was excessive, sending shares plummeting.
Tesla stock price is too high imo— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 1, 2020
In November, he polled followers about whether to sell 10 percent of his stake in Tesla. The poll collected more than 3.5 million votes, and 58 percent supported a sale. Later, it became clear Musk had planned to sell at least some of the shares all along.
Analysts who spoke with The Washington Post said that the sheer volume of Musk‘s collateral was unusual, and they said much of it was probably tied up in Musk’s other business ventures, like rocket company SpaceX.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (who owns The Post) has publicly said he sold $1 billion a year in company stock to fund his space company, Blue Origin.
Musk first revealed he had purchased a more than 9 percent stake in Twitter earlier this month. He flirted with the idea of a board seat before launching a hostile takeover bid a week ago.
“This is all so unorthodox,” said Benjamin Black, the New York-based co-head of Internet research at Deutsche Bank. “It fits the character — we just don’t know what to make of it.”
“If there’s one thing that Elon doesn’t want to do it’s sort of mess up investor confidence in Tesla, which is the crown jewel of all of his holdings,” he added.