Tesla shares took another hit Tuesday, Sept. 18 as shares in the electric car maker fell almost 4 percent following a report the Department of Justice is investigating the company because of statements made by Chief Executive Elon Musk.
According to Bloomberg, “two people familiar with the matter” have said the DOJ has opened a criminal fraud probe into Tesla based on comments Musk made last month about taking the company private. Musk shocked Wall Street, and pretty much everyone else when, on Aug. 7, he tweeted that he had secured funding for a plan to take Tesla private for $420 a share. Musk dropped plans to take Tesla private less than three weeks later, amid questions and concerns about how he would fund such a deal.
A Tesla spokesperson said in a statement that the company received a voluntary request for documents from the DOJ last month following Musks initial announcement about wanting to take Tesla private, “and (Tesla) has been cooperative in responding to it.”
The spokesperson added that the company hasnt yet received “a subpoena, a request for testimony, or any other formal process. We respect the DOJs desire to get information about this and believe that the matter should be quickly resolved as they review the information they have received.”
The DOJs investigation follows a report last month that the Securities and Exchange Commission had subpoenaed Tesla over Musks comments that he had secured funding to take the company private.
“It was only a matter of time before the security regulators would examine his statement and its potential to manipulate the stocks,” said Time Bajarin, tech analyst and president of consultancy Creative Strategies. “However, adding a criminal fraud probe underlines the severity of the governments scrutiny of what looks like a very misguided tweet from Teslas CEO.”
For its part, a DOJ spokeswoman said the department would not “confirm, deny or otherwise comment on the existence or non-existence of an investigation,” against Tesla.
Since Musk pulled the plug on the take-private idea, Tesla shares have fallen 12 percent, to $284 Tuesday.
Ben Kallo, an analyst with Baird Equity Research, said in a research note that the investigations against Tesla “will be an overhang on the (companys) stock” until more information about the reports is released.
Kallo, who has an outperform rating on Teslas stock, said if federal regulators decide financial penalties are in line, “Musk, if anyone, would be held liable for fines (and) not necessarily Tesla.”