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Elon Musk and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good $779 Million Day

  • He has a lot riding on his plan to merge Tesla and SolarCity
  • A high-risk taker, ‘his skin is completely in the game’

Elon Musk has a lot riding on his plan to merge Tesla Motors Inc. with SolarCity Corp. -- including a big chunk of his $8.3 billion fortune.

He may be better off just giving up on the debt-ridden solar-panel installer and focusing on turning Tesla into a profitable enterprise. But Musk has a long history of throwing his money after his grand visions, like weaning the world off fossil fuels and colonizing Mars, sometimes running very low on cash and coming close, by his own admission, to personal bankruptcy.

“He’s got guts, I’ll give him that,” said Ross Gerber, chief executive officer of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth & Investment Management, which has a $5 million position in Tesla and has recently been selling shares. “He really pushes it out on his companies, but Elon could implode.”

As it is, only about 4 percent of his net worth is tied up in SolarCity, of which he’s the chairman and largest shareholder. The company has been burning cash at a prodigious rate and, according to regulatory filings, is getting closer to defaulting on its $3 billion in debt. If the proposed acquisition by Tesla doesn’t come to pass, and SolarCity burns out, Musk will take a relatively minor hit.

He suffered one Thursday, when his fortune, on paper, shrank by $779 million, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That was due to two factors: drops in the companies’ stock prices; and Wednesday’s regulatory filing showing he has put up an additional $489 million of his Tesla and SolarCity stock as collateral to secure personal borrowings. The pledged shares are stripped out of his total net worth calculation because they’re not immediately available to him. The borrowing is for personal liquidity; he doesn’t...


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