Elon Musk sent a companywide email to Tesla employees last week claiming that the company was poised to break the record for vehicle deliveries--90,700 deliveries in a quarter--if employees worked hard and rallied together. (You can find the email in its entirety at the end of this article.)
The immediate impact of the leaked email was clear: Tesla shares rose for the first time in a week. In monetary terms, that led to a nearly $500 million bump in the company's market cap (according to CNBC).
At first glance, one might consider this an evil stroke of genius.
To understand why, it helps to consider Musk's history with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Musk first got into hot water with the SEC last year, when he tweeted that he was considering taking Tesla private at the relatively high value of $420 a share. (In comparison, Tesla is currently trading at under half that.) In the same tweet, Musk wrote "funding secured," indicating that he already had a buyer. This statement had great potential to affect the price of Tesla stock, and the SEC had a problem with it because upon investigation it believed the tweet was not accurate.
This led to a settlement with the SEC that required Musk to pay a fine of $20 million and resign as chairman of Tesla's board. Additionally, Tesla was tasked with setting up a system to monitor Musk's statements to the public about the company.
Then, a few months ago, Musk tweeted that "Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019." He sent out a follow-up tweet a few hours later, clarifying that he "meant to say annualized production rate at end of 2019 probably around 500k... Deliveries for year still estimated to be about 400k."
This tweet got Musk into further hot water, as the SEC accused him of violating the rules of its previous settlement. This led to a new settlement that requires Musk to get approval from Tesla's securities lawyer before publicly communicating any information in writing regarding a number of Tesla topics--including production, sales, or delivery numbers that haven't previously been shared.
So, here's the rub: This new email from Musk would be a clear violation of Musk's settlement with the SEC except for one rather large detail...
It wasn't a public statement. It was an internal communication, meant to be seen only by Tesla employees.
Or was it?
It seems to be more than just a little convenient that the leaked email came as Tesla's stock continued to plunge, partially due to Musk's admittance that the company needed to institute "hardcore" measures or else it would run out of cash later this year.
In other words, while Musk couldn't (legally) share this info with the public without having Tesla's legal team vet it first, a leaked internal email could accomplish the exact same purpose.
And just to add one final layer of things that make you go hmm:
Just this month, Musk sent an email to Tesla employees reminding them of the need to maintain strict confidentiality when it comes to internal communications. That memo came with a strict warning:
"Tesla will take action against those who improperly leak proprietary business information or violate the non-disclosure obligations to which we all agreed. This includes termination of employment, claims for damages, and even criminal charges."
Apparently, this wasn't enough to prevent this most recent leak. Did it help that the leak bore a close resemblance to what Musk would like to share himself, were he not handcuffed by his settlement?
Ok, enough with the conjecture. The end of the matter is, whether the leak had Musk's approval or not, it didn't seem to help Tesla very much in the end.
Like, what about that initial $500 million jump in market cap? It didn't last. By the end of the week, Tesla stock was sinking again, threatening to drop to its all-time low for the year.
That's bad news.
Because as big of a fan as I am of Tesla's mission, it's becoming more and more clear that it's going to take more than Musk's genius to save this company.
Here's the email in its entirety, as reported by CNBC:
Subj. Exciting Goal!
Date: May 22, 2019
As of yesterday we had over 50,000 net new orders for this quarter. Based on current trends, we have a good chance of exceeding the record 90,700 deliveries of Q4 last year and making this the highest deliveries/sales quarter in Tesla history!
In order to achieve this, we need sustained output of 1,000 Model 3′s per day. Almost all parts of the Model 3 production system have exceeded 1,000 units on multiple days (congratulations!) and we've averaged about 900/day this week, so we're only about 10% away from 7,000/week.
If we rally hard, we can do it!
Thanks for your hard work