I can’t think of any governance red flags during the Steve Jobs era at Apple (the one exception being the stock-option backdating issue, which was settled).
By contrast, there have been many at Tesla. Perhaps the Tesla bulls would say that the combination of Musk’s brilliance as well as the potential size of the electrical car market more than compensates for a few red flags. My guess is that Steve Jobs would have been envious at the many benefits of the doubt, as well as the acceptance of continual losses, which investors continue to bestow upon Tesla’s management and its stock price.
It is true, that Elon Musk is considered by many to be a true visionary, but in our view, few visionaries turn their dreams into reality with $4.9 billion in government support.
That’s according to the LA Times last summer.
SolarCity, SpaceX and Tesla all received massive funding injections.
Musk wasn’t appreciative of the estimates, calling the report “incredibly misleading and deceptive to the reader.”
But according to the Times, Tesla alone received $2.3 billion – and that was last year.
Musk’s companies make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space. But none of them make any money. And these past weeks, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out, Musk has seen his publicity sour:
It has been a rough two weeks for auto maker Tesla Motors Inc.’s ambitions in developing and deploying new technology. First was Tesla’s proposal to buy solar-panel manufacturer SolarCity Corp., largely panned by analysts and investors.
Then, Thursday it was revealed that a Tesla Model S in self-driving mode was involved in a fatal crash on May 7. The common thread between the two is Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, who pushes boundaries, sometimes to the breaking point.
The proposed takeover fueled concern about self-dealing. The crash renews questions about whether Mr. Musk’s reach may exceed his grasp—and that he is pushing beyond reasonable risk.
Of course, none of this will probably put a dent in Musk’s progress so long as Tesla’s stock stays up.
Additionally, Musk claims none of the incentives are necessary and they merely speed up the realization of his business plans.
Of course, one could make the argument that investors have been conditioned by decades of propaganda about “environmentalism” and “global warming.”
So when someone like Musk comes along, people respond.
That’s not to say the cars themselves are bad. Apparently many people like them.
But most industry watchers agree they are overpriced and Musk himself keeps making promises about production increases that never materialize.
Beyond that, the cars that Tesla makes are only as “clean” as the power source. It’s perfectly possible that the electrical charge itself is created from coal-burning power plants.
Like everything else Tesla is involved in, the “green” benefits of his cars are questionable.
What Tesla does best is take advantage of the US fedgov bias toward non-coal and non-oil energy.
Fedgov wants mostly wind and solar power. We’ve already suggested this is because neither kind of power is as easily accessible or consistent as coal and oil.
Most people don’t have the wherewithal, for instance, to make their own solar panels. And both solar and wind power are unpredictable.
Coal is perhaps the easiest power source of all, absent wood. You dig it up and burn it.
This is anathema to those in authority who want absolute control over every part of people’s lives.
Seen from this perspective, Musk is supporting the system’s determination to strip people of various forms of self-reliance.
It’s one thing for government agencies to promote “clean” energy. Many are immediately suspicious.
But Musk’s overriding talent is to make federal authoritarianism seem positively sexy. He is the rock star of alternative energy.
More from the Real Money article:
There’s perhaps no other stock trading today that seems to get the benefit of the doubt from investors than Tesla. The shares are off a little since Sunday’s announcement but not by much.
Barclays analyst Brian Johnson said this week that Tesla’s stock price has always been more about “cult psychology” than “run of the mill financial metrics.” … Elon Musk inspires this belief. If Tesla is a cult, he most certainly is the leader.
It’s interesting that Musk is compared most often in the press to the late Steve Jobs of Apple (AAPL), yet Jobs didn’t get as much favorable treatment by investors as Musk does when you compare the historical price-to-earnings ratios between the companies, as well as the tolerance of losses. Jobs always had to make money at Apple.
And then there is this, from alternative media site DSSK:
Elon Musk is an obvious fraud. Something that all of his companies rely upon is continued gub’mint cheese. Without the largesse of the state, his entire empire would have already collapsed.
He made his initial success in an unrepeatable environment of the dotcom boom. Making web applications is ridiculously simple compared to any one of Elon’s new ambitions: automobiles, space travel, solar energy, and public transit.
Any single one of these would be a massive undertaking, requiring the full focus of any CEO. To take them on all at once reeks of foolish pride and mania.
There’s something innately childish about trying to be the king of cars, space, and trains all at once as well. It’s like he’s picking everything preteen boys might decorate their room with.
The article also makes the point that Tesla’s leverage mandates that he capture huge market shares of the businesses in which he is involved. Anything less will not generate the requisite profit. Not that he has ever made a profit to begin with.
Conclusion: Every bull market has its public face, the man (usually) who captures its effervescence and seems to embody its optimism. Right now that man is Tesla. Tomorrow, it won’t be.