Tesla's Musk calls SEC "broken" in new Twitter spat

FILE PHOTO: Tesla Inc. founder Elon Musk speaks at the unveiling event by "The Boring Company" for the test tunnel of a proposed underground transportation network across Los Angeles County, in Hawthorne, California, U.S. December 18, 2018. Robyn Beck/Poo

Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk laid into the US Securities and Exchange Commission again on Tuesday, after it accused the Tesla Inc chief executive officer of violating the terms of a settlement last year of fraud charges against him.

In a filing on Monday, the SEC said that in a tweet on Feb. 19 Musk had broken a promise made last year to have his public statements vetted by the company's board, part of the deal.

The regulator did not say what remedy it wanted the court to impose, but the commitment was part of a settlement that headed off demands from the SEC for Musk to resign as Tesla CEO, seen by investors in the company as a substantial risk to its future.

Musk, who initially on Monday accused the SEC of failing to read the company's annual reports, followed up with another tweet in the early hours of Tuesday.

"Something is broken with SEC oversight," he wrote.

Shares of the electric carmaker dipped 2.6 percent to $291 in trading before the bell, signaling concern among investors that Musk had reopened his feud with the regulator.

The company's only junk bond also dipped 0.75 points to a cash price of 87.75 in thin trading, still some way off last year's lows.

"With Tesla/Musk settling with the SEC in October this black cloud was in the rear view mirror for the company," analysts from brokerage Wedbush said in a note to clients.

"This latest tweet (is) a wild card that could potentially bring this tornado of uncertainty back into the Tesla story until resolved."

JP Morgan Securities analyst Ryan Brinkman said that in a worst case scenario, the SEC could again seek Musk's removal as CEO for violating the terms of the agreement and its shares could fall by a fifth, or more than $50, in value.

"It is difficult to judge the likelihood of the reappearance of this worst case scenario ... but on the other hand the current allegations seem much less serious (than last year's)," Brinkman told clients in a note.

"If the SEC were to seek Mr Musk's removal (perhaps subject to yet another settlement), we believe the shares may approach the mid-$200 levels."

Thirteen of 32 Wall Street brokerages now rate the electric car company a "buy" or higher. Eight view it as a "hold" and 11 "sell" or lower, with a median PT of $327.50

Tesla's general counsel Dane Butswinkas, hired as an outside counsel to help settle the case with the SEC, resigned a day after Musk made the tweet to which the new SEC case refers.

The tweet read: "Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019," an inaccurate claim which the SEC said had not been pre-approved by the board and was disseminated to over 24 million people.

Musk corrected his tweet four hours later to say that the "annualized production rate" at year-end 2019 would probably be about 500,000, with deliveries expected to be about 400,000.

"While this tweet (after market hours) and the quick correction seem innocuous, the SEC isn't likely to cut Musk any slack," said another analyst, Gene Munster from Loup Ventures.

"Musk's unwillingness to follow the rules is part of what you have to be willing to accept as an investor in Tesla." 

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Tesla's Musk calls SEC "broken" in new Twitter spat

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