Elon Musk just kept fans guessing about his future plans.
The Tesla CEO did nothing to silence his critics at a South by Southwest event on Tuesday by posing for a photo with Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, prompting speculation about a potential merger of Tesla and Twitter.
But the appearance at the annual conference in Austin, Texas, did nothing to allay concerns that Tesla could face financial difficulties.
Musk did nothing to give Wall Street’s already skittish investors reasons to believe that Tesla’s woes are behind it.
Shares of Tesla closed down 3% to $295.04, extending its slide of more than 5% since Monday’s close.
On the morning of Tuesday’s panels, Musk shared some of his latest on-the-road thoughts, but didn’t mention Tesla or its shareholders.
Instead, Musk and Twitter co-founder Dorsey posed for photos with scores of screaming Tesla fans and demonstrated how to make humorous music using phones’ streaming video technology.
One of the tweets Musk posted in response to the photos was the Musk sign, which stands for “putting you feet up at every opportunity.”
“Last night at SxSW, I spent the most fun night I’ve had in months,” Musk wrote. “Pegged B.S. machine at the Alamo, made romantic poetry with @jack and danced with Twiki. All car nerds were with me!”
Musk isn’t accustomed to being the center of attention. But his habit of posting early and often has made him a divisive figure in Silicon Valley and beyond.
Musk started Tesla in 2003 with a vision of developing electric cars. A few years later, he used his Twitter account to post a much more provocative note:
“Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.”
The post had been retweeted nearly 8,000 times, spawning memes and numerous headlines.
In September of that year, Tesla said Musk had secured $2 billion in funding for the potential private acquisition. Musk later tweeted that he had turned down “all interested investors” before any final decision was made.
But an April 2018 report by the Securities and Exchange Commission said Musk had exaggerated the backing from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. That led to the SEC filing to begin Musk’s move to take Tesla private.
Musk also had an interesting exchange with CNBC’s Leo Kottke before Tuesday’s panels. Kottke asked Musk about a report by New York Times reporter Andy Greenberg that the board approved plans to consider another potential stock sale. Musk replied that he hadn’t read the report.
“I don’t want to respond to that particular article, but you’ve had people interviewed and I read the things that the Times has written and don’t recall anything really there,” Musk said.
“I don’t want to comment on a hypothetical board meeting,” he continued. “We take decisions about capital raises when we get them.”
Musk’s communication in the wake of the SEC’s lawsuit brought out some of his unique quirks. When the regulator accused Musk of violating securities laws by making a material disclosure without disclosing some key information, Musk took to Twitter to rage.
He accused the SEC of a “pattern of bullying and intimidation” and demanded the billionaire regulator appoint an inspector general to investigate the regulator.
The company’s chief operating officer of manufacturing was dismissed in November as part of the “PR driven pursuit of obstruction of justice.” And there’s still that huge share buyback plan that the board approved just days before the SEC filing.
In any case, investors are still waiting for Tesla to post quarterly profits. Asking Musk to sign off on some sort of capital plan could even worsen a tense relationship with investors, given the one that already exists.
Keep in mind, at least two analysts from Wall Street firms reduced their price targets for Tesla on Tuesday morning amid the news.
One wrote that “competition is intensifying, but the reason for the credit cuts is also that Musk doesn’t have any ability to recapitalize.”