Elon Musk and Tesla's stock price
Image: Daniel Oberhaus (2018) / Google Finance / Protocol

Elon Musk's $50 billion question

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Good morning! This Tuesday, Elon Musk asks a question worth billions, Robinhood suffered a data breach, and if your company hasn't given you an M1 MacBook yet, feel free to complain.

How much is a tweet worth?

Not for the first time, Elon Musk's Twitter antics were all anyone could talk about yesterday.

Over the weekend, Musk offered to sell 10% of his stake in the company if people on Twitter voted in favor of him doing so, allegedly because "much is made lately of unrealized gains being a means of tax avoidance," according to his tweet.

Musk has said he doesn't pay personal taxes because he takes no salary from Tesla or his other companies aside from stock. He has previously opposed a proposal to tax billionaire wealth from unrealized stock gains. The proposal was floated and then dropped by Democratic congresspeople in late October.

Musk should go ahead with the stock sale, at least according to the majority of the 3.5 million people who voted in the poll. And he promised to abide by the results.

  • "I was prepared to accept either outcome," he said after ending the vote on Sunday.
  • By the end of trading yesterday, Tesla stock was down nearly 5%. That means Musk asking a question about selling roughly $20 billion of Tesla shares cost Tesla about $50 billion, though the price seems to be rebounding this morning.

Some might just take Musk at his word that he proposed the sale to answer the tax avoidance question. But there are quite a few speculative reasons he might have put this poll in the Twitter field:

  • The most credible reason: Musk has stock options that expire next August if he doesn't exercise them, and their complicated structure means they likely aren't exempt from taxes (unlike the options of some other tech CEOs). The tax bill will probably be well over $10 billion, meaning he'd need to sell stock just to pay, regardless. In that case, this poll was really just for fun — and probably to get some attention — and he would have sold the stock whether he created a poll or not.
  • My favorite theory: Tesla stock has hit record highs recently, making this a perfect moment to come up with some kind of cover so that he can cash out and secure his wealth. This version would be even more fun if secretly Musk believes that Tesla is way overvalued, and so he's taking advantage before the rest of the world finally comes to its senses.
  • Taking Musk at his word: People are giving him lots of criticism for his failure to pay taxes. Time to fix that.
  • The most Muskian version: It's just fun! He was drunk on Teslaquila! Why not mess with the SEC and the angsty do-gooder reporters like me?

Speaking of the SEC, isn't Musk supposed to clear market-moving tweets with a company lawyer? After Musk claimed in 2018 that he had "funding secured" to take Tesla private (he didn't), the commission struck a settlement under which Tesla is required to hire a "Twitter sitter" to approve Musk's tweets about Tesla.

  • It seems pretty clear that the freewheeling "Lord Edge" isn't abiding by those requirements.
  • But the agreement has proven hard to enforce, and legal experts think Musk may not have broken any rules, since he was speaking on his own behalf as a shareholder, not as a company executive.

Were the theatrics even worth it? All told, Musk lost around $12 billion with the drop in share value — almost as much as he'd need to pay in taxes anyway. But as the saying goes: Never wrestle with the existential meaning of an Elon Musk tweet. You both get confused, and Musk likes it.

— Anna Kramer (email | twitter)


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People are talking

Frances Haugen said the EU's draft tech rules could become a "global gold standard":

  • "It can inspire other countries, including my own, to pursue new rules that would safeguard our democracies."

Ahead of that hearing, Monika Bickert said Meta's rebrand wasn't intended to draw away controversy:

  • "This is something we've been working on for a really long time, so no, this is not in response to anything recent."

Jeff Bezos responded to a Barstool Sports tweet depicting Leonardo DiCaprio as "Mr. Steal Yo Girl" with a photo of a "danger!" sign:

  • "Leo, come over here, I want to show you something."

Twitch streamer Paul Petroskey said he rarely takes a break from the platform:

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Kristin Smith said the Blockchain Association will protest the crypto rules in the infrastructure bill:

  • "This fight jolted a sleeping giant."

Making moves

Nextdoor went public yesterday. The social networking app merged with a SPAC in a deal that valued the company at $4.3 billion.

McAfee's plan to go private is official. The security software company is being bought by an investor group for over $14 billion.

Amazon will accept Venmo beginning next year. The news came out during PayPal's earnings report yesterday.

Nicole Colombo is leaving eBay to become the president at Alt, a collectible startup. Colombo oversaw eBay's trading cards business for a couple years.

Steve Kaufer is leaving Tripadvisor next year. Kaufer has been the company's CEO for over two decades.

Deep Nishar is heading to General Catalyst as a managing director. Nishar announced plans to leave SoftBank in late September.

Steve Oliver is the new president of Boosted Commerce. Oliver worked at Amazon for nearly a decade and helped grow Amazon Video.

In other news

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill includes a few tech-related earmarks: $65 billion is set aside for broadband, and another chunk is allocated for EV charging stations, as well as electric and hybrid school buses.

Nvidia is all-in on the metaverse. It just launched the enterprise version of its Omniverse platform as it tries to become a big part of every company's AR, VR and metaverse toolkits.

So is Niantic. It rolled out Lightship, a software development platform for app creators to build AR tools. The platform has been in the works for a few years now, and it marks a key moment for the company's entry into the metaverse.

Palestinians are being monitored with facial recognition technology, sources told The Washington Post. The army has used smartphone tools that take a photo of a Palestinian's face and say whether to detain the person, arrest them or let them be.

Robinhood is the latest victim of a data breach. The company said a third party got access to 5 million of its customers' email addresses, and some customers' more personal information, like their ZIP codes and birthdates.

Yaroslav Vasinskyi is being charged with hacking Kaseya. The Justice Department got a hold of $6 billion in ransom payments and charged the Ukrainian citizen with conspiracy to commit fraud, among other charges.

Meta is AMD's newest chip customer. The company has been pushing to become more dominant, particularly against Intel, by selling its services to tech giants like Microsoft and Amazon.

The coolest new tech worker perk: M1 MacBook Pros. A handful of large tech companies like Shopify and Twitter said they're giving their engineers Apple's latest MacBook Pro because of its huge processing power and features.

Meet Annie Orenstein

Since March, Annie Orenstein has served as a research manager at Twitter. But in her free time, she runs a storytelling platform for women.

Orenstein founded Dispatch from Daybreak, which encourages women to write letters to their earlier selves on issues ranging from loss to race and motherhood. The entries are called dispatches, and people can use the platform to write their own or read others'. Orenstein's platform could be a good alternative to scrolling through Twitter before bed.


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