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Tesla investors say Elon Musk’s tweets cost them billions. His trial starts today

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While still grappling with the fallout from a company he did take private, beleaguered billionaire Elon Musk is now facing a trial over a company he didn’t.

Long before Musk purchased Twitter for $44 billion US in October, he had set his sights on Tesla, the electric automaker where he continues to serve as CEO and from which he derives most of his wealth and fame.

Musk claimed in an Aug. 7, 2018, tweet that he had “funding secured” to pay for a $72-billion buyout of Tesla, which he then amplified with a follow-up statement that made a deal seem imminent.

But the buyout never materialized and now Musk will have to explain his actions under oath in a U.S. federal court in San Francisco. The trial, which begins on Tuesday with jury selection, was triggered by a class-action lawsuit on behalf of investors who owned Tesla stock for a 10-day period in August 2018.

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The shareholders have not specified the damages, but said Musk’s tweets cost investors “billions.”

Change of venue bid rejected by judge

Musk’s 2018 tweets fuelled a rally in Tesla’s stock price that abruptly ended a week later, after it became apparent that he didn’t have the funding for a buyout. That resulted in him scrapping his plan to take the automaker private, culminating in a $40-million settlement with U.S. securities regulators that also required him to step down as the company’s chair.

 

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Musk has since contended he entered that settlement under duress and maintained he believed he had locked up financial backing for a Tesla buyout during meetings with representatives from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

The trial’s outcome may hinge on the jury’s interpretation of Musk’s motive for tweets that U.S. District Judge Edward Chen has already decided were a falsehood and “reckless.”

Chen on Friday rejected Musk’s bid to transfer the trial to a federal court in Texas, where Tesla moved its headquarters in 2021. Musk had argued that negative coverage of his Twitter purchase had poisoned the jury pool in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Musk’s leadership of Twitter — where he has gutted the staff and alienated users and advertisers — has proven unpopular among Tesla’s current stockholders, who are worried he has been devoting less time to steering the automaker at a time of intensifying competition.

Those concerns contributed to a 65 per cent percent decline in Tesla’s stock last year that wiped out more than $700 billion in shareholder wealth — far more than the $14 billion swing in fortune that occurred during the August 2018 period covered in the class-action lawsuit.

The lawsuit is based on the premise that Tesla’s shares wouldn’t have traded at such a wide range if Musk hadn’t dangled the prospect of buying the company for $420 per share. The shares closed last week at $122.40.

High-profile names on witness list

After Musk dropped the idea of a Tesla buyout, the company overcame a production problem, resulting in a rapid upturn in car sales that caused its stock to soar and minted Musk as the world’s richest person until he bought Twitter.

The trial is likely to provide insights into Musk’s management style, given the witness list includes some of Tesla’s current and former top executives and board members, including Larry Ellison, Oracle co-founder, as well as James Murdoch, the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

The drama also may shed light on Musk’s relationship with his brother, Kimbal, who is also on the list of potential witnesses in a trial scheduled to continue through Feb. 1.

It’s unusual for such a case to proceed all the way to a verdict. Hundreds of U.S. securities class actions have been filed every year since 1996, but only 15 resulted in trial verdicts since then, according to the Wolf Popper law firm.

Around half are dismissed for failing to comply with securities law, and most of the rest are settled.

Musk, also the CEO of SpaceX and a co-founder of companies OpenAI and Neuralink, is no stranger to the courtroom.

He beat a libel case in 2019 before a California jury over claims he defamed a cave explorer from the famous Thailand rescue when he referred the man as “pedo guy” in a tweet.

He also won a bench trial in Delaware’s Court of Chancery last year over claims by Tesla shareholders that he allegedly coerced the Tesla board into buying SolarCity, a rooftop solar panel maker. Tesla shareholders have appealed the verdict.

Last year, he fought an ultimately losing battle to wriggle out of his deal to buy Twitter, and he defended his $56 billion Tesla pay in a bench trial. Both of those were in the same Delaware court and a ruling is expected later this year on his pay package.

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Indian tycoon Adani hit by more losses, calls for probe

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NEW DELHI (AP) – Trading in shares in troubled Adani Enterprises gyrated Friday as the flagship company of India’s second-largest conglomerate tumbled 30% and then rebounded after more than a week of heavy losses that have cost it tens of billions of dollars in market value.

The debacle, which led Adani to cancel a share offering meant to raise $2.5 billion, has drawn calls for regulators to investigate after a U.S. short-selling firm, Hindenburg Research, issued a report claiming the group engages in market manipulation and other fraudulent practices. Adani denies the allegations.

Opposition lawmakers blocked Parliament proceedings for a second day Friday, chanting slogans and demanding a probe into the business dealings of coal tycoon Gautam Adani, who is said to enjoy close ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“We have no connection″ with the Adani controversy, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi told reporters outside Parliament on Friday.

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In an interview with CNN News 18, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman brushed off concerns that the losses would spook global investors and said India’s financial market was “very well regulated.”

“As a result, the investors’ confidence which existed before shall continue even now,” she said, adding that the controversy wasn’t “indicative of how well Indian financial markets are governed.”

Amit Malviya, the governing Bharatiya Janata Party’s information and technology chief, said in a television interview that the opposition was using Adani’s crisis to target the Modi government over a private company’s shares and their market movements. “Regulators are looking into” what happened, he said.

The market watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, has not commented. The Economic Times newspaper reported, citing unnamed SEBI sources, that it had asked stock exchanges to check for any unusual activity in Adani stocks.

Shares in Adani Enterprises fell as much as 30%, to 1,017 rupees ($12), on Friday. At the end of trading, the price had recovered to 1,531 rupees ($18.70) but was still down by 2%. The company’s share price has plunged more than 50% since Hindenburg released its report last week, when it stood at 3,436 rupees ($41). Stock in six other Adani-listed companies were down 5% to 10% on Friday.

So far there has been no indication that the company’s woes might threaten the wider financial sector in India. Its equities market is large enough to sustain the fallout at this moment, said Brian Freitas, a New Zealand-based analyst with Periscope Analytics who has researched the Adani Group.

“Adani stock forms a small part of the equities market and investor concerns right now are restricted to the company, not the whole system or market itself,” Freitas said. India’s Nifty and Sensex indexes were both higher on Friday.

It could take time for problems to surface, Shilan Shah of Capital Economics said in a report. “From the macro perspective there are few signs of contagion,” he said. “But it is too early to sound the all clear.”

The S&P Dow Jones indices said Thursday it would remove Adani Enterprises from its sustainability indices beginning Tuesday, following a “media and stakeholder analysis triggered by allegations of stock manipulation and accounting fraud.”

That might dent the Adani Group’s sustainability credentials and could affect investor sentiment, Freitas said.

Adani, who made a vast fortune mining coal and trading before expanding into construction, power generation, manufacturing and media, was Asia’s richest man and the world’s third wealthiest before the troubles began with Hindenburg’s report.

By Friday, his net worth had halved to $61 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index, where he dropped to the 21st spot worldwide.

He has said little publicly since the troubles began, though in a video address after Adani Enterprises canceled its already fully subscribed share offering he promised to repay investors. The company has said it is reviewing its fundraising plans.

Hindenburg’s report said it was betting against seven publicly listed Adani companies, judging them to have an “85% downside, purely on a fundamental basis owing to sky-high valuations.” Other issues in the report included concerns over debt, alleged use of offshore shell companies to artificially raise share prices and past investigations into fraud.

Adani’s speedy, debt-led expansion in recent years caused his net worth to shoot up nearly 2,000%. Even before last week, critics said his ascent was aided by his apparent close ties to Modi and his government. Analysts say he has been successful at aligning his priorities with those of the government by investing in key sectors, but point out that he also has major infrastructure projects in states that are ruled by opposition parties.

“The question now turns to the future of the Adani Group and how they will grow,” said Aveek Mitra, founder of Avekset Financial Advisory.

As a company heavily involved in infrastructure — from airports and ports to highways — it needs financing to grow in order to service its debt, which stands at $30 billion, out of which $9 billion is from Indian banks.

Adani may be able to sell some assets and continue its expansion, but at a much slower pace than earlier, Mitra said.

“Banks, financial institutions and investors will think five times before investing now,” he added.

Associated Press writer Ashok Sharma contributed to this report.

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Ottawa expands price caps to Russian petroleum products to reduce revenues

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OTTAWA — The federal Finance Department says Canada is joining its fellow G-7 countries plus Australia to expand caps on Russian oil to include seaborne petroleum products from that country.

The department says the maximum price for seaborne Russian-origin petroleum will be US $100 per barrel for “premium-to-crude” products as of Sunday, and US $45 for “discount-to-crude” products.

It says in a press release the new caps build on a Russian crude oil price limit announced in December, adding both moves will weaken President Vladimir Putin’s ability to fund the war against Ukraine.

The Department of Finance says the caps will be enforced by prohibiting buyers who do not abide by the price caps from obtaining services from companies in the G7 or Australia.

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It says the price cap mechanism has been designed to reduce Russian revenues while recognizing the importance of stable energy markets and minimizing negative economic effects.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says Russian oil revenues have already declined since the first price cap took effect and the additional price caps “will be another blow to Putin’s war chest.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

The Canadian Press

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Adani crisis ignites India contagion fears, credit warnings – Al Jazeera English

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  1. Adani crisis ignites India contagion fears, credit warnings  Al Jazeera English
  2. Indian tycoon Adani hit by more losses, calls for probe  CP24
  3. Adani Flagship Shelves $122 Million Bond Plan After Market Rout  BNN Bloomberg
  4. How Adani selloff stacks up against the biggest stock collapses  Deccan Herald
  5. Adani response to Hindenburg report: Embattled corporations invoking nationalism, or national sentiment, is not unheard of  The Indian Express
  6. View Full Coverage on Google News

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