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Elon Musk sells $1.1 billion in Tesla stock for tax reasons

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla, arrives at court during the SolarCity trial in Wilmington, Del., in July. 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk sold $1.1 billion worth of Tesla stock for tax reasons on Monday, according to company filings, following a Twitter poll he conducted over the weekend.

He made the sale as he exercised stock options the same day to acquire more than 2 million shares. Those shares would have been valued at more than $2.3 billion at the market’s close on Wednesday.

The outspoken billionaire had turned to Twitter on Saturday, asking his followers in a poll if he should sell 10 percent of his shares in the electric vehicle company. The poll collected more than 3.5 million votes, and 58 percent supported a sale.

But the SEC filings note that the options he exercised were set to expire in 2022 and were part of a rule that sets a plan for insiders to trade their shares.

Generally, sales that are subject to that rule are preplanned, said Joshua Mitts, an associate professor of law at Columbia Law School.

“However, the criteria for triggering sales pursuant to a 10b5-1 plan can be complex, so we do not know what exactly the ‘trigger’ might have been here,” he noted in an email.

Musk phrased his Twitter poll as a tax question, telling followers that “much is made lately of unrealized gains being a means of tax avoidance, so I propose selling 10% of my Tesla stock.”

Musk’s stock options were priced at $6.24 each, totaling $13.4 million.

A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission notes, “the shares of common stock were sold solely to satisfy the reporting person’s tax withholding obligations related to the exercise of stock options to purchase 2,154,572 shares as reported herein.”

Musk over the weekend appeared to refer to discussions around a billionaire tax in the U.S. Senate, which would tax unrealized gains of a handful of the richest Americans before such assets are sold.

Musk said he does not take a cash salary or bonus, so “the only way for me to pay taxes personally is to sell stock.”

Musk is the world’s richest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, and is worth $299 billion.


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