How Can Elon Musk Reassure Tesla Investors?

Tesla has hardly been keeping quiet as it prepares to announce earnings on Tuesday.

Shares in the carmaker are down in premarket trading on Monday after the company announced further cost cuts and a recall of its ballyhooed Cybertruck model over the past few days. These developments are the latest signs that Tesla is confronting its toughest stretch in years — and many shareholders aren’t convinced that the company and its C.E.O., Elon Musk, are taking the right steps to address it.

The latest: During the weekend, Tesla cut prices of several models in China, the U.S. and Europe. The company also reduced the price of its driver-assistance software, known as Full Self-Driving (which doesn’t actually allow for fully autonomous driving).

Those moves came a day after Tesla voluntarily recalled nearly 4,000 Cybertrucks over a faulty accelerator pedal that could get stuck.

It’s all apparently keeping Musk so busy that he canceled a trip to India, during which he was expected to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and announce plans to build a factory there.

The moves came after an event-filled week for Tesla. The company had already announced that it was laying off 10 percent of its work force and that it was asking shareholders to again approve a multibillion-dollar payout for Musk that a Delaware judge had voided.

Markets aren’t sure the carmaker is on the right track. The cost cuts are only the latest announced in recent months, as Tesla tries to reverse a sales slump while rivals are taking market share. Analysts are especially worried about softening demand in China, a wider E.V. slowdown in the U.S., and that the price reductions are hurting global profit without juicing sales.

Investors are also concerned about Musk’s renewed focus on introducing autonomous-driving services like a so-called robotaxi. The project is likely to be expensive and its outcome uncertain — and may be coming at the expense of introducing a cheaper Tesla model that could help revive sales.

Shares in Tesla have fallen more than 40 percent this year, and that’s before Tuesday’s report. Wall Street already expects it will show a sharp plunge in operating profit and revenue.

Musk supporters point out that he has made counterintuitive, aggressive bets before that not only saved the company but briefly made it one of the world’s most valuable publicly traded businesses. They’re hoping that will happen again — but a lot has to go right this time.

Investors are watching tech earnings and inflation data this week. Besides Tesla, three other members of the so-called Magnificent Seven report quarterly results this week: Meta on Wednesday and Microsoft and Alphabet on Thursday. Markets are looking for updates on whether their giant bets on artificial intelligence are bearing fruit. On Friday, the Personal Consumption Expenditures index, the Fed’s preferred gauge on inflation, is scheduled for release. A hot reading could further muddle the central bank’s timeline for interest rate cuts.

Bitcoin rises after last week’s “halving.” The cryptocurrency token was trading around $66,000 on Monday, up roughly 3 percent, following the event on Friday that effectively reduced the number of new Bitcoins that are produced.

The New York Stock Exchange weighs round-the-clock trading. Exchange officials are polling market participants on their thoughts about going 24/7, according to The Financial Times, which would put stocks on the same trading cycle as cryptocurrencies, major currencies and U.S. Treasury notes. The push to do so is gaining momentum as a start-up exchange backed by Steve Cohen’s Point72 hedge fund seeks S.E.C. approval for always-open trading.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken travels to China this week, with little sign that the clouds hanging over relations between the world’s biggest economies are lifting.

Blinken is set to warn China about its support for Russia’s military. But his trip comes as Congress is poised to approve legislation that would force TikTok to split from its Chinese owner or be banned in the U.S., and after Beijing ordered Apple to remove WhatsApp and other messaging platforms from its app store.

The House made a TikTok sale or ban more likely. Lawmakers passed a bill on Saturday that would give ByteDance a year to sell TikTok. The Senate is expected to back the legislation as soon as Tuesday, and President Biden has said he would sign it into law.

TikTok says it will fight back. The company’s efforts to convince lawmakers that it’s not a risk to American security appear to have failed. (The executive who led those conversations is reportedly leaving TikTok.)

The company told employees that the bill violated the First Amendment rights of its 170 million American users, and said it would sue to block the impending law before considering any divestiture.

China is also flexing its power over U.S. tech companies that still operate there. Beijing has few options to hit back, since it has essentially banned most American tech platforms. They can only be reached through a virtual private network and are used by only a fraction of the Chinese population: WhatsApp has been downloaded about 15 million times there since 2017.

The WhatsApp move hints at how China could retaliate to a TikTok crackdown. The country is both a big manufacturing center and a market for companies like Apple and Tesla, each of which is being squeezed by fast-growing Chinese rivals.

Apple has also had to comply with increasing censorship demands in China, one of its biggest markets. Meanwhile, Tesla vehicles are banned from Chinese military and government complexes in its biggest market. (Worth noting: Elon Musk has opposed a TikTok ban.)

Removing WhatsApp from the App Store is mostly symbolic,” Dan Wang, a China tech analyst at Yale Law School, told DealBook. But he added that it showed that China still had levers it could pull to target U.S. business. “Beijing’s move is to show that it has an in-kind reply for any US provocation,” he said.

For weeks, Vista Outdoor, the parent of ammunition brands like Remington and recreational labels including CamelBak, has sought to fend off a takeover bid by the investment firm MNC Capital. Now the company is seemingly opening the door — a little — to its unwanted suitor.

Vista is expected to announce on Monday that it is engaging in talks with MNC. But it will add that it still thinks its deal to sell its ammunition division to a fellow arms maker, the Czechoslovak Group, is better for shareholders than MNC’s $3 billion offer would be.

Vista will urge MNC to raise its bid above its current level of $37.50 a share. But the company continues to favor the deal it accepted last year to sell its firearms business to CSG for $1.9 billion and let its remaining business continue to trade publicly.

Vista will say that MNC’s most recent bid met the conditions to begin talks. The company will also give MNC additional nonpublic information to justify a higher offer.

It’s the latest twist in an increasingly fraught takeover tale. MNC has raised national security concerns about CSG, suggesting that it’d be unwise for the U.S. government to allow a foreign-owned weapons manufacturer to take over a key maker of ammunition components like primers.

The Republican senators J.D. Vance of Ohio and John Kennedy of Louisiana have questioned whether CSG has links to American adversaries including China and Russia. The CSG deal is being reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, the federal interagency panel that reviews certain investments by overseas buyers in U.S. companies. (As an American entity, MNC isn’t subject to such an inquiry.)

CSG has fought against those concerns, arguing that it’s a top supplier to NATO forces and to Ukraine.

Vista will give itself more time to try to wring a higher bid out of MNC. The company plans to postpone a shareholder vote on the CSG deal that had been scheduled for May 16 to June 14.

Every April, executives of news companies and tech giants descend on the Italian hilltop city of Perugia for the International Journalism Festival. There, they discuss the future of a media industry that seems to lurch from one crisis to another.

Artificial intelligence was the big topic this year, illustrating how — as in businesses from Wall Street to Big Law — the technology is seen as both friend and foe. Participants debated whether A.I. could help publishers grow their audiences, or serve as a Trojan horse that rips off journalists’ work at an industrial scale.

A.I. business models are under scrutiny. Several attendees argued that media companies’ licensing agreements with Big Tech — such as The Associated Press’s deal with OpenAI — shortchange journalists. “I’m worried that this turns us into unpaid workers for the most profitable companies in the world,” said Julia Angwin, a former ProPublica reporter who founded the nonprofit Proof News.

(The New York Times sued Microsoft and OpenAI in December for copyright infringement, arguing that the tech companies trained their chatbots using millions of its articles without permission.)

Still, news leaders continue to embrace A.I. Just about every news chief who was quizzed said their company was experimenting with it in some way, ranging from brainstorming headlines to generating news quizzes to aiding reporters in their research.

  • Schibsted, a Scandinavian publisher, is using A.I.’s text-to-speech functionality to make audio versions of its published news stories for its vision-impaired audiences.

  • Rappler, a Filipino website, is using A.I. to transform some of its stories into comics and graphics to attract younger readers.

  • In the “improvement needed” category: The Guardian programmed a generative A.I. model to take a stream of posts from its daily news blog and write a cogent summary. But it struggled to make sense of the blog’s reverse-chronology news flow.

The struggle to figure out A.I. comes as media watchers and civil rights advocates worry about the rise of A.I.-powered disinformation in a year of elections.



Best of the rest

  • Companies are increasingly fed up with employee activism that’s disrupting the workplace. (WSJ)

  • David Beckham sued the actor Mark Wahlberg over a deal for the soccer star to endorse the Wahlberg-backed F45 gym chain that went south. (The Sun)

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