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Jul 16, 2018

Tesla shares fall after Musk betrays his own advice

Signage is displayed outside the Tesla showroom in Newport Beach, California, July 6, 2018

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Elon Musk can’t follow his own advice.

Even after admonishing himself for engaging with detractors on Twitter, the Tesla Inc. (TSLA.O) chief executive officer was at it again this weekend. Shares of the electric-car maker fell as much as 3.6 per cent after the CEO called a British cave explorer who had criticized him a pedophile. The tweet has been deleted.

Controversial outbursts are neither new nor unusual for Musk, who frequently spars with critics and investors betting against his company. In May, another such histrionic kicked off a sharp decline in Tesla shares. Musk cut off analysts’ queries about the company’s capital requirements and Model 3 reservation holders during a conference call, calling them “boring, bonehead questions.”

After Tesla shares fell 22 per cent in March — the steepest monthly drop in more than seven years — Musk jokingly tweeted on April Fools’ Day that the company had gone bankrupt. The following week, he hung up on the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board who called to tell him the agency was booting Tesla representatives from the investigation of a fatal crash involving a Model X driver. The company had published a series of blog posts that cast blame on the deceased driver.

The latest Twitter fit came after British diver Vern Unsworth, a volunteer who played a key role in organizing the rescue of 12 boys from a flooded Thai cave last week, called Musk’s offer to save the boys using a “kid-size submarine” a “PR stunt,” during an interview with CNN on Friday. Musk didn’t name Unsworth in his series of tweets over the weekend, though he said he would make a video to prove that the mini sub could have helped in the rescue.

While investors following Tesla are a starkly polarized bunch, there’s one thing they can probably all agree on: As the company struggles to profitably boost production of its Model 3 sedan, it needs as few distractions as possible. As one of the company’s biggest investors said last week, Tesla needs to keep its head down and focus on performance.

“We are very supportive, but we would like peace and execution at this stage,” James Anderson, a partner and portfolio manager at Baillie Gifford & Co., Tesla’s fourth-largest shareholder, said Wednesday in a Bloomberg Television interview.

Earlier this month, Musk said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek that he would engage with his detractors on Twitter less often. “I have made the mistaken assumption — and I will attempt to be better at this — of thinking that because somebody is on Twitter and is attacking me that it is open season. And that is my mistake,” he said. “I will correct it.”

With assistance from Craig Trudell and Tom Randall