Elon Musk. Picture: BLOOMBERG/DAVID PAUL MORRIS
Elon Musk. Picture: BLOOMBERG/DAVID PAUL MORRIS
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New York — Tesla shares soared on Tuesday after controversial Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he was considering taking the company private.

The shares surged 11% to $379.57 at the closing bell, as the market anticipated a big premium. They were suspended for about 90 minutes following a series of Musk statements on Twitter in which he initially floated the idea of going private.

Going private would take the electric car maker out of the quarterly reporting cycle, making it “free from as much distraction and short-term thinking as possible”, Musk said in a blog post.

Musk, who has depicted the quest to build up electric cars as a crucial environmental and economic objective, said he viewed going public as “the best path forward”, but a final decision had not been made and the decision ultimately depended on shareholder support.

Musk’s first tweet said funding was “secured” for a transaction could value the company at $420 per share.

Tuesday’s gains following the tweet added to upward movement on the stock after the Financial Times reported earlier on Tuesday that a Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund had built a stake of between 3% and 5% in the company.

Musk’s tweet comes as Tesla faces continued pressure to ramp up output of the Model 3 sedan, its first effort at the middle market.

Billionaire Musk, who owns about 20% of the company, said a transaction would not “substantially” alter his stake and he expected to continue to lead the company if it occurred.

Musk has previously discussed possibly going private as a means to realise long-term growth and accomplish a goal that some Tesla acolytes embrace with near-messianic passion.

Supporters of Musk and the company view him as a visionary akin to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, while critics have likened him to a Wizard of Oz-like figure who has yet to turn a profit.

The South African-born Tesla chief has courted plenty of controversy.

Musk apologised last month for calling British caver Vernon Unsworth, who helped rescue 12 Thai boys from a cave, a “pedo”, short for paedophile, after Unsworth spoke dismissively of the Tesla chief’s proposal for bringing the boys to safety.

He has also had a prickly relationship with Wall Street, apologising last week to equity analysts after refusing to answer questions on a May investor call.

Musk’s approach to a possible go-private transaction also went against the grain of many companies that release major news in non-trading hours.

By contrast, Musk made the initial comment on Twitter and then embellished on the remarks in a series of responses to users on the platform.

In its August 1 earnings release, Tesla confirmed output was on track after missing earlier benchmarks as it reported a bigger than expected loss but said it was on track to become profitable later this year.

Shares have rallied strongly since those earnings but Musk has continued to show a short fuse with critics, lambasting “short” sellers of Tesla shares — those who take bets that the stock will fall in value.

Following the company’s surge after last week’s earnings, Musk took aim again at a short-seller in a reported short YouTube video that likened these investors to Hitler’s last days.

Musk amplified this point on Tuesday, saying on Twitter that going private “will be way smoother”, end “negative propaganda from shorts” and benefit shareholders.

“Am super appreciative of Tesla shareholders,” Musk said. “Will ensure their prosperity in any scenario.”

AFP