Things were looking pretty good for Tesla (TSLA) in August. The company reported a better-than-expected earnings for the second quarter and investors were optimistic on what the company could do in the second half of 2018.
After all, Tesla burned through less cash than expected, tightened spending and had Model 3 production improving by significant measures. Management stuck to its outlook of profitable and free-cash flow positive quarters in Q3 and Q4.
The results ignited the stock, pushed it through $360 and threatened to erupt to new all-time highs. The shorts were in trouble and CEO Elon Musk probably thought he was about to throw gasoline on the fire. Instead, he threw cold water on it.
He tweeted that he intended to take Tesla private at $420 a share and he had "funding secured." Even more impactful, he sent the tweet during the trading day, confusing nearly everyone who follows the stock. Why isn't the stock halted? Did someone hack Musk's Twitter (TWTR) account? If not, is he for real?
All these questions and more popped up. Enthusiasts cheered the move. Long-time stock market veterans -- like Stephen "Sarge" Guilfoyle -- were surprised that Musk would so arrogantly thumb his nose at the financial markets. "Yes, I take offense when you make a mockery of our financial marketplace," he reasoned. Some people cleaned up by shorting the stock as it cratered.
As a result of his actions, Musk was investigated by the SEC, fined $20 million and must relinquish his role as executive chairman for the next three years. But should he have just found a way to make it work? Maybe his funding wasn't secured after all. Perhaps it was too difficult to keep long-time investors who believe in Tesla on board in a go-private deal.
Regardless, some say he should have gone private. Specifically, Tim Draper, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and early investor in Tesla and Musk's other company SpaceX, says Musk would have saved himself some trouble by doing it.
It was a "human" mistake to send the tweet, Draper said at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon Tuesday. That being said, he also reasoned that Musk "probably should have just taken the whole thing private."
At this point, I'm not sure that going private would take Musk and Tesla out of the spotlight. Much like Uber, a company this size is hard to lay low for too long. But by being a private company, Tesla would be relieved of the many obligations it has as a public company: Quarterly reports, SEC filings, exchange requirements and many other obstacles would be eliminated.
But so too would Tesla's access to public markets. Would that matter? Maybe not anymore. On several conference calls this year with analysts, Musk has stated his desire for Tesla to no longer rely on outside money to fund Tesla's operations. That includes vehicle manufacturing, R&D and expansion efforts.
Whether Tesla's cash flows will remain as strong as they were in the third quarter is up for debate. But if Tesla doesn't need to rely on capital raises via stock sales, perhaps it doesn't need the public markets anymore. It can still raise debt and there's plenty of investment money floating around the Bay Area looking for a home.
Musk would have less of a headache as a private company, but for the time being, that doesn't look like it will be the case. We'll still be watching TSLA for quite some time it seems.Want to Buy $1 Worth of Stock for 90 Cents or Less? You can with certain so-called "closed-end" mutual funds - an often overlooked investment class. Click here to register for a free online video in which TheStreet's retirement expert Robert Powell and an all-star panel tell you all you need to know.