Most companies are being careful during the pandemic, holding virtual annual meetings among other safety measures.
But that won’t do for Elon Musk, a vocal critic of Covid-19 safety measures.
Musk went on an obscenity-laced rant against stay-at-home orders during a quarterly conference call with investors in April, calling such measures “fascist” and un-American. In May, he reopened Tesla’s Fremont, California plant despite restrictions by county health officials, filing a federal lawsuit and threatening to move his company’s headquarters out of state.
And while almost every major company has shifted to virtual annual shareholder meetings in recent months, Telsa insists it will hold its own gathering the old fashioned way, in a room filled with investors, Tesla executives and board members.
In a filing on Monday, Tesla said its management and board values in-person meetings and they believe that “Tesla’s stockholders appreciate the interpersonal connection and dynamic that is possible only with a live, in-person annual meeting of stockholders.”
But it won’t be holding that on July 7 as originally planned.
Instead Musk disclosed on Twitter this past weekend that the date has tentatively been reset for Sept. 15. A follow-up filing from the company, which included screenshots of Musk’s tweets, said that a specific date and location for the meeting has yet to be set.
Shareholder meetings a relic?
Annual shareholder meetings are required by securities law. The Securities and Exchange Commission issued guidance in April, telling companies they could shift to virtual meetings with proper notice, urging different parties to be flexible when meetings are changed.
Meetings are more important to individual and small investors with long-term stakes in companies rather than the institutions or day-traders who rapidly buy and sell stock. So for the most part, these meetings are a relic of an earlier time of investing. And even most regular in-person meetings already allow online participation.
The most famous and best attended annual meeting each year is generally the one for Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA). Typically tens of thousands of investors with shares in the stock gather to hear the latest wisdom from the Oracle of Omaha, CEO Warren Buffett. But even that was held virtually this year. It included more than four hours of questions from shareholders.
An overwhelming majority of companies have shifted to virtual annual meetings amid the pandemic, according to Glass Lewis, a service that advises shareholders on proxy questions. Of the 3,700 annual meetings that it tracks the only US in-person annual meetings since early April then have been “micro-cap” companies, mutual funds and controlled companies, which rarely have more than a few attendees.
Tesla (TSLA) has a relatively high percentage of shares held by individual investors. Many are fans of the company and its vision of a world dominated by electric vehicles. Only 51% of Tesla (TSLA) shares are held by institutional investors, compared to more than 60% of shares at other tech companies such as Amazon (AMZN) or Apple (AAPL) and 77% at General Motors (GM).
Musk can expect to see an even friendlier than normal crowd at this year’s shareholder meeting given how well Tesla has done. Shares cracked the $1,000 mark for the first time in company history earlier this month and are up 138% year-to-date through Monday’s close. That’s an increase of 358% since the company’s last shareholder meeting on June 11, 2019.
Heading into that meeting, critics raised questions about whether Tesla faced a cash crunch and if it would ever be consistently profitable. Shares had fallen 35% year-to-date at the time of that meeting. Since then, Tesla has hit or topped its profit and production targets and the stock has soared.
“Battery Day” also on tap
Musk said that he expects to combine the postponed shareholder meeting with what Tesla is calling “Battery Day,” when it will debut new battery technology.
Such an announcement could overshadow the annual meeting itself. There is much speculation on what breakthrough Tesla will announce.
One possibility: A battery that can last 1 million miles, which could be especially important for self-driving cars used by ride hailing services, which could stay on the road around the clock 365 days a year.
There could also be new announcement on speed of charging or distance that can be traveled on a single charge. Tesla’s Model S was recently judged by the EPA to be the first electric car with a range of more than 400 miles.
There could also be an announcement about the cost or supply of batteries, which make up a significant part an electric car’s cost. And Tesla has ambitious expansion plans that will require significantly greater availability of batteries.
Of course, the battery announcement and the shareholder meeting can be done virtually rather than having either hundreds or thousands of people get together in person. But Tesla is insisting having both events in real life, rather than online.
Which means fans and critics alike will have to wait.