Elon Musk sells $9.5 billion of Tesla shares to avoid Twitter fire sale

The sale comes just four months after the world's richest person said he had no further plans to sell Tesla shares. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Elon Musk sold US$6.9 billion (S$9.5 billion) of his shares in Tesla the billionaire's biggest sale on record, saying he needed cash in case he is forced to go ahead with his aborted deal to buy Twitter.

"In the (hopefully unlikely) event that Twitter forces this deal to close *and* some equity partners don't come through, it is important to avoid an emergency sale of Tesla stock," Mr Musk tweeted late on Tuesday (Aug 9) after the sales were disclosed in a series of regulatory filings.

Asked by followers if he was done selling and would buy Tesla stock again if the US$44 billion deal doesn't close, Mr Musk responded: "Yes."

Tesla's chief executive officer offloaded about 7.92 million shares on Aug 5, according to the new filings. The sale comes just four months after the world's richest person said he had no further plans to sell Tesla shares after disposing of US$8.5 billion of stock in the wake of his initial offer to buy Twitter.

Mr Musk last month said he was terminating the agreement to buy the social network where he has more than 102 million followers and take it private, claiming the company has made "misleading representations" over the number of spam bots on the service. Twitter has since sued to force Mr Musk to consummate the deal, and a trial in the Delaware Chancery Court has been set for October.

In May, Mr Musk dropped plans to partially fund the purchase with a margin loan tied to his Tesla stake and increased the size of the equity component of the deal to US$33.5 billion. He had previously announced that he secured US$7.1 billion of equity commitments from investors including billionaire Larry Ellison, Sequoia Capital and Binance.

"I'll put the odds at 75 per cent that he's buying Twitter. I'm shocked," said Mr Gene Munster, a former technology analyst who is now a managing partner at venture-capital firm Loup Ventures. "This is going to be a headwind for Tesla in the near term. In the long term, all that matters is deliveries and gross margin."

At the weekend, Mr Musk tweeted that if Twitter provided its method of sampling accounts to determine the number of bots and how they are confirmed to be real, "the deal should proceed on original terms".

Mr Musk, 51, has now sold around US$32 billion worth of stock in Tesla over the past 10 months. The disposals started in November after Mr Musk, a prolific Twitter user, polled users of the platform on whether he should trim his stake.

Tesla shares have risen about 35 per cent from recent lows reached in May, though are still down about 20 per cent this year.

With a US$250.2 billion fortune, Mr Musk is the world's richest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, but his wealth has fallen around US$20 billion this year as Tesla shares declined.

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