Twitter voted for Elon Musk to sell 10% of his Tesla stock. A looming tax bill meant he was likely to do it anyway

November 8, 2021, 7:58 AM UTC

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is practically begging for an excuse to sell some stock.

On Sunday, Musk asked his 63 million Twitter followers whether he should sell 10% of his Tesla stock so that the U.S. government can take a cut of his earnings as taxes.

When the poll closed Sunday, 57.9% of the 3.5 million votes said yes.

Musk posed his question as Democrats consider a plan to introduce a tax on wealth, which Musk has publicly opposed. Last week, Musk was engulfed in a different debate about selling his Tesla stock. In a tweet, he offered to sell $6 billion worth of Tesla shares to fund the UN World Food Program, provided that the WFP could show what it would do with the money.

With a net worth of roughly $320 billion, Musk is currently the world’s richest man and, at Monday’s share price of $1,222 each, 10% of Musk’s Tesla stock would convert to roughly $21 billion in cash.

Musk said he would “abide by” the poll results, whichever way the public swung. So, if the Tesla CEO and Twitter fiend is to be trusted, a substantial sale of Tesla shares is imminent.

After the poll closed, some Musk-watchers were quick to argue that the world’s wealthiest man was likely going to sell a chunk of Tesla stock in the near future anyway, since a 10-year window on share options Musk received in 2012 is coming to a close.

Musk’s compensation as Tesla CEO is paid entirely in share options. In 2012, the Tesla board awarded Musk the option to buy 22.8 million shares at $6.24 each, redeemable anytime between then and 2022. Tesla’s share price is now $1,222, which means Musk would effectively earn over $27 billion by purchasing those share options now.

However, there are two things preventing Musk from doing that. First, Musk needs money to buy the shares. Since the Tesla CEO doesn’t take a salary, the easiest way for Musk to get the $145 million in cash he needs to buy the share options is to sell shares he already has.

Second, once Musk buys the share options, he will have to pay tax on his technical earnings, i.e., the difference between the $6 option price and the $1,222 current share price. The tax bill alone would cost Musk roughly $15 billion.

Musk, of course, doesn’t have to buy the share options available to him, but he has signaled that he will. In June, replying to another tweet on the subject of taxing the wealthy, Musk said the “only time I sell Tesla stock is when my stock options are expiring [and] I have no choice.”

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