Elon Musk, who last year added a controlling stake in Twitter to his business empire, is a master at keeping his name in the news—and also at changing the topic when he doesn’t like the way his news coverage is going.
There’s the recent spectacle of Musk and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis launching DeSantis’ presidential campaign on Twitter. Which followed Musk’s high-profile new Twitter hire—Linda Yaccarino, the former head of advertising sales at NBCUniversal, who will become Twitter’s chief executive officer next month.
These two events have largely displaced the coverage of the financial mess that Musk has made of Twitter since paying a whopping $44 billion for the company and then firing 75% of its staff to save money.
But today, we’ll look at some interesting numbers rather than joining the speculation about the impact of DeSantis’ Twitter campaign launch or about how Musk and Yaccarino will get along with each other, which are the stories that Musk would like us to write about.
If you’re a fan of dark financial humor, there’s a funny story buried in the Twitter loss numbers, which are public (if you know how to find them) because one of Musk’s 19 Twitter co-investors has a legal obligation to value its stake in the buyout at what it’s worth, not at what it cost.
Unless you’re one of the employees who Musk broomed, it’s a pretty funny story. A bunch of smart, accomplished, and rich investors shelled out big bucks to get in on the ground floor of the buyout alongside Musk, whose Tesla fortune and other ventures make him arguably the most financially successful entrepreneur of our time.
They paid the same per-share price for their piece of what’s now called X Holdings I that Musk paid for his piece. But instead of becoming a wild success, it’s become a fiasco.
Seventeen of those players anted up cash, and two—Fidelity and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund—agreed to swap their existing Twitter stock for X Holdings shares rather than taking the $54.20 a share of buyout cash.
But instead of being way ahead on their high-profile investment, the co-investors, by my math, are down a total of about $4.5 billion—almost two-thirds of what they put into the deal.
Now, watch what a difference a year makes when it comes to the co-investors talking about the Twitter takeover.
Back when Musk was assembling his co-investors last May, they were gushing enthusiasm.
A few examples: “We believe in Elon’s brilliance to finally make [Twitter] what it was meant to be,” Ben Horowitz of Andreesen Horowitz tweeted. “We are thrilled we can once again support Elon and his mission of transforming the future through innovative and world-class technologies,” John Raffelli, managing partner of Brookfield Asset Management, said in a LinkedIn post. “Purchase price really cheap since business had been so poorly run,” Ron Baron said in a CNBC interview. And finally, Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal’s tweet to Musk: “I believe you will be an excellent leader for @Twitter to propel & maximize its great potential.”
(Some of these quotes are courtesy of Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy, who wrote about Musk’s co-investors last year in Go Banking Rates, an online personal finance site.)
Now, all 19 co-investors have gone silent. My colleague, Laya Neelakandan, and I called and emailed all of them, some more than once. None would say anything on the record, and most of them didn’t respond at all.
I emailed Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, twice, asking to have a grown-up conversation, and he wouldn’t even send me a “no comment.” Finally, when we asked X Holdings to comment, we got what has become Musk’s automatic response to media inquiries: a poop emoji.
This being the case, how can I say that Musk’s co-investors are down about $4.5 billion on their investment?
It’s because co-investor Fidelity, whose open-end mutual funds are bought and sold by investors at prices based on the funds’ net asset value, is legally required to assign a market value (rather than a purchase cost) to the funds’ stakes in X Holdings.
So I hunted through the filings of Fidelity’s Contrafund and saw that it paid $53,469,000 for its X Holdings stake. But it has marked down the value of that stake twice, and as of March 31, 2023, the most recent available date, it was valuing the shares at only $19,537,000. That’s a 63.5% decline from the original cost.
Apply that 63.5% decline to the $7.1 billion put up by Musk’s co-investors, and you get a $4.5 billion drop in value. Of which about $200 million is for Fidelity’s funds, about $1.1 billion for the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, and $635 million for Larry Ellison, the biggest cash co-investor.
Sure, it’s possible that in a few days, when Fidelity (which declined to comment) discloses the end-of-April value that Contrafund placed on X Holdings, the stake may have risen in value from its March low.
And of course, it’s also possible that Musk will somehow manage to turn X Holdings from a disaster into a wild success.
But for now, it’s a cautionary—and hilarious—story about how smart, big-time investors, who think they’re getting in on the ground floor with a legendary investor, have found their investment heading toward the basement instead of the sky.
And that, my friends, is the bottom line.
With reporting by Laya Neelakandan
Loading the player...
Are humans crucial to the future of tech? Joseph Bradley shares his insights