From ‘fanboy’ to critic: Why Singapore-based billionaire Leo KoGuan and others are losing faith with Elon Musk’s Tesla leadership

CEO Elon Musk’s preoccupation with Twitter after taking over the tech firm in late October and his sell-off of Tesla shares to fund his Twitter purchase has also contributed to the plunge in stock price.

From 'fanboy' to critic: Why Singapore-based billionaire Leo KoGuan and others are losing faith with Elon Musk's Tesla leadership
Mr Leo KoGuan poses with Mr Elon Musk at the Spacex office on Oct 10, 2019. (Photo: Twitter/Koguan Leo)

SINGAPORE: Tesla’s shares are at their lowest level in years, with the company’s shares dropping nearly 70 per cent this year over falling demand for electric vehicles.

CEO Elon Musk’s preoccupation with Twitter after taking over the tech firm in late October and his sell-off of Tesla shares to fund his Twitter purchase has also contributed to the plunge.

Tesla shares rebounded slightly on Thursday (Dec 29) after Musk told employees they should not be “bothered by stock market craziness”, but on the whole, they have been one of the worst-performing stocks among major automakers and tech companies this year.

The headwinds facing the electric car maker has left some analysts and long-term investors unhappy with Musk’s leadership.

‘FANBOY’ NO MORE

Leo KoGuan, Tesla’s third-largest individual shareholder, publicly called on Musk to step down on Dec 14, in a tweet. The Indonesian-born billionaire, now based in Singapore, owns around 22.7 million shares of Tesla, which were worth around US$3.57 billion as of September.

He bet big on Tesla and Musk in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Calling himself a “fanboy” of the mercurial Twitter CEO, he tweeted last year: “I am investing billions into Tesla because I believe in Elon’s great mission that I share.”

In an interview with Bloomberg last year, Leo, who is the co-founder of software company SHI International Corp, which had a revenue of more than US$12 billion in 2021, said: “I’m all in. Any money I have I spend on Tesla.”

Tesla’s share price has since dropped nearly 70 per cent from their record closing high of over US$400 a share in November 2021.

Earlier this month, Musk sold about 22 million more shares of Tesla, worth about US$3.6 billion, according to media reports, to fund his Twitter purchase.

Tesla’s plunge has left buy-and-hold investors frustrated, with Leo tweeting Musk has “abandoned Tesla” and that the company has “no working CEO”.

In a tweet on Monday, Leo also wrote: “I was his fanboy, no more,” while he has retweeted other investors calling for a vote against Musk and the board “for not doing their fiduciary duty”.

TESLA’S WOES

From Oct 27, when Musk bought Twitter and appointed himself CEO, to Dec 13, Tesla’s share price dropped by 28 per cent.

On Dec 24, Tesla also announced the suspension of its production plant in Shanghai.

While Tesla did not provide a reason for the sudden suspension, the news comes after a surge of infections after China loosened its zero-COVID policy.

In an interview with people onsite at the plant, Reuters reported that workers at Tesla and its suppliers have been falling sick as part of the wave, posing challenges to operations in the past week.

The wave of COVID-19 infections are unlikely to ease soon, with provinces like Zhejiang, situated near Shanghai, experiencing a million daily cases with the numbers expected to double, according to the provincial government on Dec 25.

The Shanghai factory, the most important manufacturing hub for Tesla, already had plans to suspend Model Y production from Dec 25 to Jan 1.

Production at the plant will also slow down next month. Tesla will run production from Jan 3 to Jan 19, and will stop electric vehicle output from Jan 20 to Jan 31.

With a fall in demand for electric vehicles in China, Tesla is offering an additional incentive for buyers earlier this month in an attempt to raise sales.

Analysts have called on Musk to refocus on Tesla, whose stock price remains his main source of wealth.

Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives told financial website TheStreet earlier this week: “At the same time that Tesla is cutting prices and inventory is starting to build globally in face of a likely global recession, Musk is viewed as ‘asleep at the wheel’ from a leadership perspective for Tesla at the time investors need a CEO to navigate this Category 5 storm.”

BEARISH INVESTORS REAPING REWARDS

The issues surrounding Tesla has, however, been a boon for bearish investors.

It has become the third most shorted stock in dollar value after Apple and Microsoft, according to financial analytics firm S3 Partners.

Short selling, which is when investors borrow shares to sell them on the open market in the hope of buying them back at a cheaper price and pocketing the difference, is up by more than 8.98 million shares this year due to a drop in the stock price.

Tesla short sellers stand to book a profit of US$16.94 billion, their first gain since at least 2016, compared with a US$10.26 billion loss last year.

Source: Agencies/at(sn)