SEC slaps Tesla’s wrist over accounting practices

The Securities and Exchange Commission has been writing Tesla some strongly worded letters about its accounting practices.

The regulator criticized Tesla for using “individually tailored” measurements in its August earnings release, according to a series of letters between Tesla and the SEC reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The regulator has been cracking down on the use of non-GAAP information in earnings releases, the report said.

The SEC letters also criticized Tesla for failing to make a “substantive case” for using non-GAAP figures. An expert consulted by the Journal noted the strong language of the letters.

Tesla announced in early October that it would stop reporting non-GAAP figures. The company had previously defended their use by saying non-GAAP figures better reflected their finances.

Tesla did not return a request for comment.

Read More

Elon Musk’s growing empire is fueled by $4.9 billion in government subsidies

Los Angeles entrepreneur Elon Musk has built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space.

And he’s built those companies with the help of billions in government subsidies.

Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, according to data compiled by The Times. The figure underscores a common theme running through his emerging empire: a public-private financing model underpinning long-shot start-ups.

“He definitely goes where there is government money,” said Dan Dolev, an analyst at Jefferies Equity Research. “That’s a great strategy, but the government will cut you off one day.”

The figure compiled by The Times comprises a variety of government incentives, including grants, tax breaks, factory construction, discounted loans and environmental credits that Tesla can sell. It also includes tax credits and rebates to buyers of solar panels and electric cars.

Read More

It’s Time to Stop Spending Taxpayer Dollars on Elon Musk and Cronyism

From Enron to Bernie Madoff, at the end of every great American financial scandal, the totality of the perpetrators’ greed seems to be matched only by the public’s incredulity at how such a thing could be allowed to happen.

And thanks to Elon Musk, there’s a good chance we may all be asking this question again soon.

The Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee have launched a probe into tax incentives paid to solar companies, according to The Wall Street Journal. The committee probes, led by their respective Republican chairmen, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, have found an appropriate and disturbing target to begin this work.

SolarCity, a solar installation company set to be purchased by Tesla Motors Inc., is one of the seven companies named in the initial investigation.

Read More

Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity, and the Cancer of Cronyism (Plus Post-Election Humor)

The vision is appealing, but in the short run it looks challenging. Tesla may have surprised investors by turning a narrow — and rare — profit in the third quarter, but the vast bulk of its current $28 billion market capitalization is predicated on Mr. Musk’s turning the company from a niche supplier into a truly mass manufacturer of electric vehicles. Tesla’s shares have fallen about 16 percent since the company unveiled its SolarCity bid in June, reducing the value of the all-stock deal to around $2 billion.

Hitting a self-imposed target of cranking out 500,000 cars per year by 2018, from a current run rate of around 100,000, already looked daunting. Tesla, after all, has a history of missing production and sales targets; its Model X S.U.V., for example, was delayed by problems with its falcon-wing doors.

Now Mr. Musk and his team also have a major acquisition to worry about. Throw in his continued role as chief executive of the rocket venture SpaceX, and he has a lot up in the air. Moreover, to deliver on its promises, Tesla will probably need to ask investors for fresh capital at some point next year.

For most chief executives, all this would make 2017 a make-or-break year. But Tesla investors’ overwhelming support of the SolarCity deal suggests that Mr. Musk is in a different category. Even if the wheels start to come off, he will probably be able to persuade the faithful to keep him in place and to hand over more cash. That may make Mr. Musk’s all-electric vision a self-fulfilling prophecy, no matter the cost.

Read More

SpaceX and ULA see the future of space launching very differently

The heads of United Launch Alliance and SpaceX aren’t just rivals for launching U.S. military and commercial satellites into orbit. They don’t even see the business the same way.

Tory Bruno, CEO of Centennial-based ULA, and Gwynneth Shotwell, president of Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, were the biggest presences on a panel Thursday closing the Space Symposium, the biggest annual gathering of U.S. military and private-sector space officials.

Read More

The ‘trickiest’ part of Elon Musk’s Mars spaceship — a giant black orb — just passed a critical test

Prior to the barge pressure test in early November, Musk said SpaceX performed “initial tests with the cryogenic propellant” that “actually look quite positive.”

“We have not seen any leaks or major issues,” he added.

If the company has already pumped methane into the spherical tank before, it stands to reason that it will try again to get even more data on its performance for incorporating into a flight version.

Business Insider asked a SpaceX representative for more details on the upcoming “full cryo test”, which is presumably when the carbon-fiber fuel tank will be pumped full of a liquid methane.

However, the company declined to tell us more about that test, when it would occur, or what cryogenic liquid it’d be using.

Whatever the case, the fact that it’s happening on ocean barge is telling: It says there’s a chance the device could not just merely leak but burst or explode. If no one is around and it does, the shrapnel (and possibly flames) can’t hurt anyone.

After all, SpaceX does have a history of testing its gear on ocean barges, sometimes with catastrophic effect:

Read More

Will Elon Musk’s SpaceX Crash Land On Planet Trump?

In the case of Tesla, the Los Angeles Times calculated last year the upstart automaker had received $2.4 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies, mainly from California (where it is headquartered), Nevada (where it is building the biggest lithium-ion battery factory in the world), and the federal government. SolarCity, the Times calculated, had received $2.5 billion in subsidies — mainly in federal assistance for solar installations and New York state support for building the biggest solar-panel plant in the Western Hemisphere in Buffalo.

And then there is SpaceX, a supplier of launch services to NASA, the military and various commercial customers. SpaceX has not received much in the way of subsidies, but its survival depends very much on government contracts — over $6 billion in awards for resupplying the International Space Station, launching military satellites, and supporting various other missions. If all goes according to plan, SpaceX will begin lofting U.S. astronauts into orbit before the end of the decade, displacing Russian rockets that have been doing that since the Space Shuttle retired.

However, there is good reason to believe that all will not go according to plan — not just for SpaceX, but for the rest of Musk’s empire. In the case of Tesla and SolarCity, the fact that President-elect Trump has appointed a climate-change skeptic to lead his transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency speaks volumes about how federal priorities are likely to change on the energy front. Trump has pledged to cut off money for United Nations climate-change programs and lift regulations limiting exploration for fossil fuels.

With SolarCity already facing financial troubles, the disappearance of federal subsidies could prove fatal. Musk has moved to preempt a crisis by folding the solar-services provider into Tesla, but Tesla could soon be facing its own problems. So the second explosion of a SpaceX rocket in less than two years just as the general-election campaign was moving into high gear couldn’t have come at a worse time. SpaceX’s main U.S. competitor in the launch business, United Launch Alliance, hasn’t lost a single rocket since it was founded over ten years ago.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the co-owners of United Launch Alliance, both contribute to my think tank (Lockheed is a consulting client), so I’ve been getting an earful for the last few years about the risks of relying on low-cost launch providers to get into space. Those risks will become a lot more politically potent if SpaceX is allowed to begin lofting astronauts using a proposed fueling technique that would require the crew to be sitting on the rocket while the fuel is loaded. The spectacular explosion of a SpaceX rocket on September 1 occurred while the vehicle was being fueled.

Read More

Europe’s Inmarsat is “looking at alternatives.”

On Friday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk appeared on CNBCand seemed to confirm that the company had found the cause of the September 1st explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket during a test firing.

“I think we’ve gotten to the bottom of the problem,” Musk said, describing the issue as one that had “never been encountered before in the history of rocketry.” Musk didn’t give a detailed explanation, only saying that the failure involved a combination of liquid helium, the rocket’s carbon-fiber materials, and supercooled solid oxygen.

At press time, the company had not published an official statement finalizing the investigation, but Musk’s statements were in line with preliminary findings.

Musk concluded by saying that, with the mystery solved, SpaceX launches would likely resume by mid-December.

But that might not be fast enough for some customers. The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the European satellite company Inmarsat was, in the words of its CEO Rupert Pearce, “actively looking at alternatives” to SpaceX for at least one upcoming satellite launch.

Inmarsat officials seem to be less worried about the reliability of future SpaceX launches than about scheduling problems caused by the halt in launches following the accident. Inmarsat has an early launch slot for its next Global Xpress satellite, part of a plan to provide global wireless broadband, and says it will still launch that craft with SpaceX.

Read More

Letter raises questions about SpaceX fueling plans and committee roles

“Independent advisory groups provide input on commercial crew safety considerations, among which the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel is the primary independent adviser for commercial crew activity,” the agency said. “The ISS Advisory Committee focuses on the International Space Station and international systems.”

The charter of the ISS Advisory Committee, approved and signed by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in September, states that the committee’s objective is to “provide advice and recommendations to NASA on all ISS aspects related to safety and operational readiness, utilization, and exploration.”

The description of duties for the ISS Advisory Committee, also stated in the charter, do not explicitly mention commercial crew systems. The charter does mention “program and project management, including spaceflight safety and mission assurance strategies” as part of its scope, but the only crew vehicle mentioned is the Soyuz.

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) does regularly review commercial crew vehicle development, and has included its assessment in its annual reports in the last several years. Minutes of the last five ASAP meetings, from December 2015 to October 2016, do not mention any discussion of the SpaceX fueling issue.

NASA, though, indicated in its statement that it would still address the ISS Advisory Committee’s letter despite it being beyond the strict scope of its activities. “Other groups, such as the ISS Advisory Committee, also seek information, and we treat all inquiries seriously,” it said.

Read More