Stopping Elon Musk's money mirage
Declaring the company's first quarterly profit in over two years as a "historic quarter," Tesla CEO Elon Musk has promised that the future of Tesla will be brighter, expecting the fourth quarter and "all quarters going forward" to be profitable. But what reason do taxpayers and lawmakers have to believe him?
Tesla has had only three profitable quarters in the 15 years since its creation. The third-quarter results reported that Tesla made a $312-million profit due to a surge in production and sales of the Tesla Model 3 sedan. The earnings were thanks in part to the company's cost-cutting, spending less on future models, and delaying of payments to suppliers.
Despite the strong recent showing, doubts still linger over whether Tesla can consistently make a profit and meet its production targets. Much of the uncertainty comes because of statements coming from Musk himself, who recently told Axios that his company had been "within single digit weeks" of death. If the financial books at Tesla are really that bad, prospective Tesla buyers, investors, and government funders don't have much to cheer about, especially since the federal electric vehicle tax is slated to get cut in half by Jan. 1.
Musk has a history of embellishing the truth and making things up in a seeming attempt to artificially gain the confidence prospective investors. According to the Wall Street Journal, FBI agents recently contacted former Tesla employees to determine whether Musk willfully attempted to defraud investors for personal gain. Further, he prompted an SEC investigation by falsely claiming on Twitter that he had the "funding secured" to take his company private at $420 a share. They settled their lawsuit under the agreement that he step down as chairman of Tesla for three years and pay a total of $40 million in fines.
The criminal securities fraud investigation intensified when the Justice Department requested documents from Tesla focusing on Tesla's Model 3 production issues dating back to 2017. Musk in February 2017 laid out an aggressive Model 3 production plan to produce 5,000 vehicles a week. By the end of 2017, Tesla produced a total of only 2,700 Model 3s.
This culture of debt-taking and book-rigging appears to be a pattern across Musk's spread of businesses. Just this month, SpaceX, Musk's rocket company, sought to borrow a $750-million leveraged loan led by Bank of America Corp. However, SpaceX slashed the requested funds to $250 million after the bank balked at SpaceX's desire for "wide latitude to raise additional debt in the future."
The reason for this ask is obvious: SpaceX appears to be as cash-strapped as, if not worse off, then Tesla. Last month, Bloomberg found that SpaceX hid key details about its financial situation, "[including] amounts that customers had prepaid and [excluding] costs related to non-core research and development" in its earnings report to give off the illusion of profitability to investors. Corroborating evidence from the Wall Street Journal in 2017 shows SpaceX turning a small fraction of its revenue into operating profit. This should be alarming to investors, for investing in any of Musk companies or Musk himself should be seen as a high risk, with the reward of total failure.
One surprising quarter of supposed positive earnings after seven straight losses won't fool the American people. It shouldn't fool Washington, either. Musk has a long rap sheet of inflating his numbers and to-do lists to hide his problems, misleading investors and omitting information that affects his company's market value. This rampant dishonesty distorts the economy and interferes with the private decisions of government leaders and the citizenry at large. It can't be tolerated – not anymore. With the DOJ and FBI finally investigating the SpaceX and Tesla CEO, there finally appears to be a chance that he will, through a criminal case, be slapped with more than a fine.
It is time to stop Musk before more damage is done and more money is wasted.
Mona Salama is a political analyst, fashion influencer, and freelance author. She previously worked as a political reporter for Breitbart News.