Friday, June 26, 2020

Tesla context -- Why the red flags matter

It may seem like we've been picking on Tesla quite a bit lately. Sure, Musk is annoying, but the SpaceX stuff is cool, and we can all get behind electric cars and solar cells. Aren't there things  more worth complaining about in 2020?

The trouble with that framing is that the things you hear about -- the often cool, sometimes just goofy technology, the outrageous claims, the nerd as rock star lifestyle --  are a small part of the story, while the big parts of the story are more than big enough to worry about. This is especially true when you're living in Jengaville where one of the biggest, most precarious towers is a stock market bubble in the middle of an economic collapse.

Both columns in the table below show reasons for concern (discussed further here). Tesla has grown since 2017, but its revenue is still a fraction of the others below. This is a seventeen year old company that has turned a profit only intermittently.

Think about that for a moment and remember...

... Tesla's market cap is around three times that of GM and Ford, combined.

The other column is a stark reminder of the issues with corporate governance. The board, of course, provides no oversight. Musk has flagrantly attempted to manipulate the stock price. Many of the accounting practices appear fishy. All of this may or may not be connected to a mysterious and conveniently timed spike in the stock price that earned Musk a bonus worth three quarters of a billion dollars.

In more normal times, I'd add something here about Tesla being a bad employer and bad corporate citizen, but at the moment, I'm mainly thinking about what a stock market collapse would do to a fragile economy, the pocketbooks of retail investors and the emotional well being of a country that's already under just a bit of stress.

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