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Matt Levine

Musk’s Tesla Fun Does Not Amuse SEC

Also short-dated options and penny stocks.

That is what we in the business tend to call “securities fraud.”

That is what we in the business tend to call “securities fraud.”

Photographer: Max Whittaker/Getty Images North America

Tesla Securities Fraud Lawsuit Watch 2018.

Look, I don’t know what to tell you. Elon Musk publicly announced, on Aug. 7, on Twitter, that he was considering taking Tesla Inc. private at $420 per share, that he had “funding secured,” that “investor support is confirmed,” and that he had a structure that would allow all of Tesla’s public shareholders to keep their shares in a private Tesla if they wanted to. All of those statements seemed very implausible at the time, and as days went by with no confirmation or clarification, it became pretty evident that they were false. Eventually Musk admitted that he had not actually secured any financing, that investors did not support the idea, and that there was no way for retail shareholders to roll over into a private company, so he abandoned the going-private plan three weeks after announcing it. You can’t do that. You can’t announce your plans to buy a public company unless the announcement is more or less true. Even if you’re just floating the idea, and don’t mean it to be taken too seriously, investors will take it seriously. The stock went up on Musk’s announcement, and then went down when it became clear he was kidding. The people who believed Musk, and bought stock thinking it would go to $420, were deceived, and lost money. That is what we in the business tend to call “securities fraud.”