By Arturo Castañares / Publisher and CEO
Tesla’s founder and CEO has been dogged by the SEC for making false and misleading claims on Twitter that affected their stock price, leading to the tech guru’s removal as Tesla’s Board Chairman and a record $40 million fine.
Elon Musk is a charismatic yet volatile figure in the tech world who first struck gold as one of the founders of Paypal, the online payment system sold to EBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.
Since then, Musk founded Tesla, the electric car company, and SpaceX, a private company designing and launching rockets to carry payloads into space for private companies, as well as for NASA.
Now a true billionaire worth an estimated $20 billion, Musk is a giant among tech titans and a household name around the world.
Born and raised in South Africa, Musk moved to Canada for college but then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, known as UPenn, and home to the Wharton Business School. UPenn, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740, is also the alma mater of Donald J. Trump.
Brash and unconventional, Musk shares more in common with Trump than just having graduated from the same university; both men use Twitter as the main form of communicating their thoughts, and that, at times, has caused them both some problems.
Musk is a marketing genius and master manipulator of news cycles. He has used Twitter to tease the coming of new electric cars and space rockets, as well as the launch his own Tesla Roadster car into space in what has become the universe’s longest test drive. Brilliant move.
But Twitter has also brought Musk huge problems.
In August 2018, Musk sent a Twitter message that he was considering taking Tesla private at $420 per share and that he had financing secured.
That one tweet sent the stock soaring by 12% until NASDAQ suspending its trading to give the market time to digest the news.
Within a few days, Musk had to admit that he didn’t have funding secured beyond preliminary talks with investors, including Saudi Arabia’s national investment fund. AKA he lied.
Within weeks, the stock bubble had popped and the stock was down over $100 per share, having lost nearly $20 billion in market value.
Of course, investors that lost money on Musk’s rollercoaster ride filed lawsuits, as well as complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the SEC.
The SEC regulates the stock market and investigates stock manipulation, fraud, and other behavior that can affect the market and therefore investors.
In the end, Musk agreed to a settlement that included stepping down as Tesla’s Chairman, paying a $40 million fine, and agreeing to have his tweets approved by the Tesla Board before he posts them in an effort to control his impetuous outbursts that could impact the market.
Investors are still suing Musk and Tesla to recover billions in lost stock value caused by his misleading and damaging tweet, all because he wrote on Twitter whatever was going on in his head.
The damage from Musk’s tweets was mostly limited to Tesla stock and it’s value, yet the SEC saw it as damaging to the entire stock market because of the ripple effects on other investors.
If the tweets from one company CEO can wreak havoc on the market, than what about the words from the most powerful CEO in the world; the President of the United States?
Our Tweeter-in-Chief famously uses social media to deliver messages from the urgent to the absurd. He tweets insults about political opponents, brags about poll results, and even mixes in a few compliments to Fox News hosts that speak highly of him during their “news” shows.
But Trump’s tweets also make claims about the economy that cause worldwide economic impacts, and lead to billions of dollars in markets shifts for millions of affected investors around the world.
A single tweet from Trump on the status of trade talks with China, for example, can cause the stock market to veer wildly from positive to negative, and impact bond prices and interest rates as investors seek safer ground.
Just two weeks ago, the yield on US Treasury bonds passed a critical point where short term bonds were yielding higher returns than longer term bonds, a key indicator that has preceded every economic recession in 50 years. The inverted yield curve is a good predictor of recessions, an ominous sign of coming trouble.
Bond yields on long term bonds fell because panicked investors jumped out of the stock market and into bonds fearing a global recession brought on by Trump’s escalating trade war with China, a direct result of Trump’s tariff war that has affected nearly every manufacturing and farming sector around the world.
Trump’s tweets usually don’t have any verifiable information or news; they’re usually just the thoughts in his head spilling right out in 140 character messages seemingly without any filter, and without constraints.
But stock traders and analysts have to react to these messages because Trump can, as we’ve seen, directly impact the market on any given day.
He can impose tariffs on a whim. He can bully the Federal Reserve into lowering interest rates. And he can even order US companies to stop trading with China as he did last Friday on (you guessed it) Twitter.
Trump has over 65 million followers on Twitter, but that’s just the beginning of his audience. Every one of his messages is covered by media around the world, and the impacts are felt almost instantly.
Last week, while at the G7 summit, President Trump said China had reached out to him in hopes of securing a trade deal. Stocks went up.
Later the same day, Chinese officials said they knew nothing of new trade talks, and stocks went down.
When Trump and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were asked at a news conference to confirm the new talks with China, they both abruptly changed the topic and refused to explain the discrepancy between what he said and they said. It turns out it was all a lie that Trump intentionally told to ease market concerns, AKA manipulating the market.
If Elon Musk can be investigated, fined, and restricted by the SEC to protect markets and investors, than why can’t that also happen with Trump?
How can one man with a documented history of spinning, exaggerating, and flat-out lying about things both big and small, be allowed to impact world markets and make winners and losers out of millions of people without any constraints or consequences?
Anyone can and should be prosecuted for stock manipulation, insider trading, and fraud as we’ve seen with Musk, Martha Stewart, and Bernie Madoff, respectively.
Martha Stewart, the maiden of the kitchen and home, spent months in prison and stepped down as CEO of her company for allegedly using an insider tip to avoid about $45,000 in losses when that company’s stock fell the day after she sold hers.
If Martha Stewart was held accountable, so should bigger stock market manipulators like Musk, and the biggest one of all, Donald J. Trump.
Trump is the head of the largest economy of the world and he has the largest megaphone on the planet. His words can start wars and change history.
And he can also tweet the stock market into panic.
The SEC should have the courage to protect everyday investors and retirees from market shocks caused by an impulsive tweeter and carnival barker. Politics aside, Trump’s tweets are dangerous to the livelihood of millions of people.
We should all be protected from swindlers, hucksters, and shysters, starting with the one in the Oval Office.