Tesla’s Elon Musk doesn’t impress Jim Chanos.
Chanos, the short-seller known for successfully betting against Enron before it collapsed, said he is now even more convinced that Tesla stock will fall, as its CEO Musk attempts to buy SolarCity (SCTY).
Presenting his best investment idea Tuesday at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha conference, the Kynikos Associates hedge fund manager reiterated his short bet against Tesla (TSLA), which he first disclosed in May. Since then, he had compared Tesla to Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) before the drug company’s epic 90% fall, and in June panned Musk’s plan to acquire SolarCity as a “shameful example of corporate governance at its worst.”
Chanos now says he was too kind.
New information that Tesla disclosed recently helped him understand “just how crazy this merger is and the damage it’s going to do to shareholders,” Chanos said. Tesla’s stock was trading down about 1.5% early Tuesday afternoon.
The crux of Chanos’ argument is the steep need for capital that both Tesla and SolarCity currently have—both companies are dealing with a cash crunch, and have announced plans to raise additional money later this year. Together, the companies are burning through about $1 billion per quarter and “will constantly need access to capital markets,” Chanos said. “And when you need that amount of money just to run your business model, you put yourself at risk.”
To illustrate that risk, Chanos pointed to a section of a recent Tesla securities disclosure, in which it says that SolarCity approached it asking for a short-term loan—but Tesla’s board said no, and sent SolarCity to borrow elsewhere. Chanos’ point: If SolarCity can’t even get financing from its sister-and-soon-to-be-parent company, who else would loan it any money?
The deal between the two companies, “to in effect bail out the shareholders of SolarCity,” Chanos said, “Strikes us as just the height of folly.”
Asked if Musk might not do with Tesla what Jeff Bezos has done with Amazon (AMZN)—which continued to be one of the the market’s best-performing stocks despite being unprofitable until very recently—Chanos rejected the idea. “This is anything but,” Chanos said of Tesla. “This is the anti-Amazon.”
The big difference between Tesla and Amazon: While Amazon may have lost money on the bottom line, it always had enough revenue coming in that it never needed to go back to the capital markets to raise outside funds since it went public almost two decades ago, Chanos said. That’s far from true for Tesla.
Tesla is going to “continue to lose lots of money,” Chanos said. “And continue to need more and more capital.”