Late last week, Greenlight Capital's founder David Einhorn made headlines when he predicted that Tesla (TSLA) would report a "large revenue and earnings disappointment" for its fourth quarter of the year. This is not the first time that Einhorn has come out publicly against Elon Musk's news cycle-dominating company: earlier this year, Einhorn made a show of returning his Tesla Model S, and around the same time the billionaire hedge fund manager stuck with his short bet on Tesla even as the price of the electric-car maker rose, costing Greenlight significantly.
Einhorn's latest volley includes a reference to the billionaire's most famous bearish call: his bet against Lehman Brothers at the cusp of the financial crisis. It's easy to see Einhorn's comparison of Tesla with Lehman Brothers as, in a sense, the strongest argument that he can make against the car maker. After all, it was Einhorn's prescient bet against Lehman that launched him into the upper echelon of hedge fund managers.
"Deception is About to Catch Up"
In a letter to investors, Einhorn suggested that "like Lehman, we think the deception is about to catch up to TSLA." He added that "Lehman threatened short sellers, refused to raise capital (it even bought back stock), and management publicly suggested it would go private. Months later, shareholders, creditors, employees and the global economy paid a big price when management's reckless behavior led to bankruptcy."
Implicit in this description of the activities of Lehman Brothers in 2008 is a comparison to Musk and Tesla. Months ago, Elon Musk turn heads when he speculated online that he might take Tesla private. The aftermath of that and other decisions has now forced Musk out of the position as chair of the company, although he remains CEO.
Einhorn famously spoke in May of 2008 at the Ira W. Sohn Investment Research Conference, sharing his belief that Lehman Brothers was a risk to the broader financial system and confirming that his firm was short the investment bank at that time.
How Much Impact Does Einhorn Have?
One question that remains is exactly how much impact Einhorn's statements have on the price of Tesla shares. CNBC points out that TSLA dropped by 7.1% on Friday, although to what extent that was because of Einhorn's letter and to what extent it may be due to other factors, including Elon Musk's tweets mocking the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, is unclear.
For his part, Musk has taunted short sellers like Einhorn via social media in the past, and Einhorn's message is in some way returning the favor. Einhorn accussed Musk of having "bluffed" about Tesl'a sfinancial position. Einhorn added that "there are many parallels to TSLA. In 2013, TSLA was on the brink of failure...TSLA's cash reserves fell to a dangerously low level and CEO Elon Musk secretly and desperately tried to sell the company." Einhorn added that "rather than communicating the truth to shareholders, Mr. Musk bluffed his way through the crisis."