Thu | Sep 20, 2018

Musk talking with Saudi fund to take Tesla private

Published:Tuesday | August 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Inc.

Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund would be the main source of money for Tesla CEO Elon Musk's grand plan to take the company private, but the deal isn't done yet, Musk disclosed in a blog on Monday.

The fund approached Musk about going private multiple times during the past two years, and Musk says he left a July 31 meeting with no question that the deal could be closed. That's why he tweeted on August 7 that he had "funding secured" to take the company private.

It is that phrase that may lead to trouble for Musk.

If the tweet is deemed by regulators to be a factual statement, and it was taken as such by investors who drove shares up 11 per cent on that day, Musk could be at risk for securities fraud if it wasn't entirely true.

Already there are reports that the United States' Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into Musk's tweet.

Funding for the deal would come from the ultraconservative kingdom's Public Investment Fund, one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds. Founded in 1971, the fund has some US$250 billion in investments across the world, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, based in Las Vegas. Among its holdings include a US$3.5-billion stake in the ride-sharing app Uber.

A fund spokesman declined to comment Monday night in Riyadh.

Musk's blog, posted before the markets opened Monday, didn't impress investors much. Shares fell US$3.10 to US$352.39 in midday trading.

Under his proposal, only investors who don't want to remain with a private company would be paid, and funding for the deal would come from Tesla stock, not debt. Musk wrote that he expects about one-third of shareholders to take an offer of US$420 per share, making the buyouts worth roughly US$23.6 billion. Presumably the wealth fund and perhaps other investors would put up the money to buy the shares and would be repaid in Tesla equity.

Musk wrote that at the July 31 meeting, the fund's managing director "strongly expressed his support" for taking the electric car and solar panel maker private.

"I understood from him that no other decision makers were needed and that they were eager to proceed," Musk wrote in the blog.

But the deal appeared to be far from finished. Since the meeting, the men have continued discussions and the managing director has expressed support "subject to financial and other due diligence and their internal review process for obtaining approvals", Musk wrote.

The wealth fund recently bought nearly five per cent of Tesla's shares.

AP