Elon Musk’s buddies in Silicon Valley are predicting he will emerge laughing from his year of record-breaking wealth destruction

January 13, 2023, 7:43 PM UTC
SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk
SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk could revive his fortunes with a Starlink IPO.
Michael Gonzalez—Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently broke a world record for the largest loss of a personal fortune in history, having shed an estimated $182 billion since November 2021 (another estimate puts it closer to $200 billion). But he could enjoy a major turnaround this year, according to Silicon Valley insiders, and it would be thanks to one of his other companies, SpaceX.

These insiders are two prominent Bay Area venture capitalists, Jason Calacanis and Chamath Palihapitiya, who once garnered the nickname “SPAC King” for his numerous investments in special purpose acquisition companies. Both longtime Musk associates, they were speaking on the All-In podcast about the outlook for 2023. Calacanis’s closeness to Musk was revealed in court, when his private text messages to the Twitter CEO were disclosed as part of the Twitter acquisition lawsuit, including his oath of fealty: “Board member, adviser, whatever…you have my sword. Put me in the game coach! Twitter CEO is my dream job.” So they are likely biased in favor of Musk, but they see one clear way the world’s second-richest man can recover some swagger in 2023.

Asked what would be the biggest business deal of the year, Palihapitiya said on the podcast, “This one is easy. Starlink will go public.”

Starlink valuation

Starlink is the satellite-broadband unit of SpaceX, which dominates the market for commercial space launch. It gained attention last year due to the war in Ukraine, where its user terminals proved crucial to resisting Russia’s invasion, helping troops stay in touch with each other and leaders in Kyiv despite attacks on infrastructure.

The Starlink valuation “will be at least half of SpaceX’s current private worth,” Palihapitiya predicted.

That would put it at roughly $75 billion, host Calacanis noted. In mid-November, Bloomberg reported that SpaceX was in funding talks that would value it at more than $150 billion.

Musk himself said in early 2021 that Starlink would go public once its cash flow could be predicted “reasonably well.” 

“I think it’s gonna go public and I think it’s gonna be the best chance we have of opening up the capital markets in 2023,” said Palihapitiya on the podcast.

As Fortune’s Term Sheet newsletter noted this week, “the American IPO market was basically dead last year.”  

Matt Kennedy, senior IPO strategist at Renaissance Capital, a provider of pre-IPO research, told Fortune in December that the equity capital markets environment was “the worst it’s been since the great recession.”

Musk has appeared on the All-In podcast himself a number of times. Besides Calacanis’s name being floated as a potential new CEO for Twitter, which Musk acquired for $44 billion in late October, the same goes for another of the four “besties” on the podcast: David Sacks, who was along with Musk was a member of the “PayPal Mafia” as a founding member of that firm.

Palihapitiya noted that he himself is a Starlink customer, as did Calacanis, who said:

“People are underestimating the TAM [total addressable market] of this product. The TAM is not existing broadband connections, it’s second connections, it’s connection where connections didn’t exist. It’s on RVs, buses, in villages.”

Palihapitiya noted that, for users of private jets, Starlink can provide broadband at a fraction of the cost of other offerings.

But he also provided another reason for a Starlink IPO in 2023.

‘Breathing room’ for Musk

“I think the reason why is that in order for Elon to have complete financial flexibility and to do what he needs to do and—he talked about this on our pod, about the difficulties and the dangers of margin loans and all of that stuff—he’s gonna create breathing room for himself. This is the simplest and most obvious way for him to do it. It’ll give him a ton of more dry powder.” 

In early December, Bloomberg reported that Musk’s bankers were mulling providing him with new margin loans backed by Tesla stock to replace some of the high-interest debt on his Twitter deal.

That followed Musk personally putting up billions when he purchased Twitter and selling Tesla shares to help make it happen.

Last month, in an appearance on the podcast, Musk reiterated his take that the economy is overdue for recession and said, “I would really advise people not to have margin debt in a volatile stock market and you know, from a cash standpoint, keep powder dry. You can get some pretty extreme things happening in a down market.”

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