Skip to main content

Tesla Inc. chief executive officer Elon Musk’s contemplated $72-billion take-private deal is presenting investment bankers with a dilemma: overlook concerns about how feasible it is or risk missing out on what could be this year’s biggest and most high-profile acquisition.

Musk did not just catch investors and analysts off guard earlier this month by announcing on Twitter he was considering taking the U.S. electric car maker private. He also sent shockwaves throughout the investment banking world, which reacted to the news with both excitement and bewilderment.

This is because no company of Tesla’s size has ever been taken private by financial investors as Musk has suggested, as opposed to being acquired by a bigger company. Moreover, the standard method of doing so, saddling the company with debt in a so-called leveraged buyout, is not an option for Tesla given that is already servicing a debt mountain of some $11-billion and is not making any money. It reported an operating loss in 2017 of $1.6-billion.

Story continues below advertisement

Debate over the deal’s feasibility has polarized bankers. During one conference call at an investment bank last week, discussion on whether the deal represented a major opportunity or a fools’ errand degenerated into a shouting match, according to one of the bankers who provided the details on condition that neither he nor the bank, which decided not to pursue a role, are disclosed. “Given the size of a deal, the company’s debt capacity and cash flow, bankers seem similarly chary about this deal happening anytime soon,” said Stefan Selig, a former top Bank of America Corp banker who is the founder of financial and strategic advisory firm BridgePark Advisors LLC, which is not involved in the deal.

Bankers aspiring to advise on the deal are courting Musk and Tesla’s special board committee that will independently consider the merits of Musk’s expected offer.

Working for Musk could also come with reputational risk, given that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the factual accuracy of his assertion on Twitter that funding for the deal was secured, sources have said.

However, many bankers said this would not be a deterrent given the magnitude of the potential deal.

“That’s likely not enough to color a banker’s view on whether or not there is an opportunity,” said Ted Smith, a co-founder and partner of Union Square Advisors, a technology boutique investment bank. Union Square is not trying to win a role in the Tesla deal.

Musk, who owns about a fifth of Tesla, said in a blog post last week the effective size of the deal would be much smaller than the $72-billion equity valuation of his offer, because, according to his estimate, two-thirds of the company’s shareholders would choose the option he will offer them of “rolling” their stakes and continue to be investors in a private company, rather than cash out.

Musk also said that Saudi Arabia’s PIF, which became a Tesla shareholder earlier this year with a stake of just under 5 percent, could help him fund the cash portion of the deal, through sources close to the secretive sovereign wealth fund have played down that prospect.

Story continues below advertisement

TROPHY DEAL

There is no precedent for major institutional shareholders and thousands of mom-and-pop investors rolling their stakes in a transaction of this size, and legal experts have warned that carrying this out would require navigating a regulatory minefield.

If the deal was structured like a leveraged buyout, advisers to Tesla could earn $90-million to $120-million in fees, while advisers to Musk’s investor group would earn $30-million to $50-million, and debt financing fees could reach $500-million, according to estimates from financial advisory firm Freeman & Co.

However, if the Tesla deal is done with equity partners and little debt, as Musk envisions, the fees would be substantially lower, according to Freeman, making it more of a trophy rather than a lucrative assignment for bankers.

Last week, bankers at Goldman Sachs Group Inc decided to take the plunge by offering to advise Musk. Goldman bankers have had close ties with him for more than a decade, leading Tesla’s initial public offering in 2010. Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

Morgan Stanley equity research analysts said on Tuesday they had ceased coverage of Tesla, and sources confirmed that the bank was also close to being hired by Musk.

Story continues below advertisement

Tesla has declined to comment on the matter.

This is despite Morgan Stanley currently advising aspiring Tesla rival Lucid Motors Inc on attracting a potential investment from PIF, sources told Reuters. Morgan Stanley has been a top financier of Tesla over the years, making it a prime candidate to arrange any debt financing needed, the sources said.

Morgan Stanley declined to comment.

Still up for grabs is the financial advisory mandate to be awarded by Tesla’s special committee. Evercore Partners Inc, which advised Tesla two years ago in its $2.6-billion acquisition of renewable energy company SolarCity and is also advising PIF on its potential investment in Lucid Motors, is one of the banks vying to advise Tesla’s special committee, according to the sources. Evercore declined to comment.

Other investment banks vying for the Tesla special committee financial advisory role include Centerview Partners, Lazard Ltd, Moelis & Co, and Perella Weinberg Partners LP, according to the sources. The banks did not respond to requests for comment.

Report an error
Tickers mentioned in this story
Unchecking box will stop auto data updates
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter