Last week Tesla beat all Q1 expectations and set record revenue and earnings figures at a time when every major automaker in the world is seeing a double digit sales slump. Tesla had $17 billion in cash, essentially no debt and Elon Musk predicted 2022 would end with 50-60% overall growth in car deliveries despite all of the disruptions associated with the pandemic. He also said he believed that level of growth would continue for several years to come. If it does, Tesla will be one of the largest automakers in the world in just a few years.
But it was not always that way. Back in 2018, Tesla came very close to going bankrupt because it could not get the Model 3 production line to work. Musk spent quite a while sleeping in a conference room on factory floor because he knew that if he didn’t solve the production line problem his company was done.
At this time Tesla was the most shorted stock on the stock market, with more than 27% of its shares held short. So when Musk suggested on Twitter in 2018 that he had money to take the company private, the stock went up and the short sellers took a big hit. They were very unhappy about it and demanded that the SEC get involved.
All of this is necessary backstory to what happened Friday when an account called Whole Mars Catalog tweeted out what appeared to be a text exchange between Elon Musk and Bill Gates. The two were apparently planning to meet to discuss “philanthropy possibilities.” But that plan fell apart when Musk asked Gates if it was true he had a half billion dollar short on Tesla stock.
Bill said he hasn’t closed it out, so Elon told him to get lost. No idea if this is true lol pic.twitter.com/iuHkDG3bAd
— Whole Mars Catalog (@WholeMarsBlog) April 22, 2022
Whole Mars Catalog asked Musk if the text exchange, which appeared to have come from Musk’s phone, was real. Musk replied that it was but that he hadn’t been the one who leaked it.
Yeah, but I didn’t leak it to NYT. They must have got it through friends of friends.
I heard from multiple people at TED that Gates still had half billion short against Tesla, which is why I asked him, so it’s not exactly top secret.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 23, 2022
So the fact that Bill Gates had a half a billion short on Tesla even as Gates was hoping to ask Musk to donate to some worthy causes helps explains why Musk tweeted this Friday night:
shadow ban council reviewing tweet … pic.twitter.com/cawjtwc7CW
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 23, 2022
I support some of the things Gates is pioneering, like small scale nuclear power plants. That’s actually something on which he and Musk agree. Musk recently said that shutting down nuclear plants (as Germany and the US have been doing) is madness. So these two guys do have some things in common.
But if your concern is climate change and sustainability, why would you be trying to profit from the failure of one of the few significant companies that is premised on those same concerns? The site Clean Technica has more on Gates’ hypocrisy.
Although there had been rumors about Gates shorting Tesla’s stock, Gates declined to address those when interviewed by CNBC in 2021. “Yeah, I’m not, I don’t talk about my investments, but I think he should be very proud of what he’s done.”
A few days after that interview, Gates told Bloomberg that he wished he’d gone longer on Tesla’s stock. He also said he helped several relatives purchase Tesla vehicles.
It seems as if, publicly, Gates wanted to portray an image of support for Elon Musk and Tesla. However, one can go on TV and say a lot of nice things. Those things don’t matter if you don’t back them up with actions. And a $500 million Tesla short position is definitely an action that betrays what Gates has said about Tesla in the past.
One of the advantages of being a famous billionaire is you don’t have to answer awkward questions if you don’t want to but now that this is public, I hope Gates gets asked to explain himself. Was he just trying to make a quick buck off Musk’s failure while promoting him in public? Why would he do that? Why not invest the money in the company if you believe in it?