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Elon Musk Is Already Dropping Hints on His Plans for Twitter. So Much for ‘Passive.’

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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So what is Elon Musk’s game?

The world’s richest person may have taken a ‘passive’ stake in


Twitter
,
but he is clearly intent on playing an active role in pushing for change on the platform itself.

There is a chance the stake will develop into a more active one—pushing for a management shake-up, for example—but perhaps for now the Tesla CEO is using the holding to add to his influence.

His edit button poll late Monday certainly carries more significance now he is the company’s largest shareholder. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal even urged users to vote carefully.

There are more clues as to where Musk may take his newly boosted influence. Given that Musk purchased the stake on March 14, according to the SEC filing, the billionaire’s tweets regarding free speech 11 days later are worth revisiting. Below his own poll on whether Twitter adheres to the principles of free speech, Musk wrote “the consequences of this poll will be important. Please vote carefully.”

It isn’t clear whether the passive nature of his stake stretches to afford him influence over policy changes on the platform, but he will likely give it a good go.

Another factor is


Tesla
.
The electric-car maker spends nothing on advertising, but Musk’s 80 million-plus followers make Twitter the sort of free publicity machine other companies can only dream about. In that respect, Musk’s transition from external nuisance to internal agitator at Twitter can’t be a bad thing for Tesla.

As with everything the billionaire endorses, Twitter stock is flying, pointing 3% higher in premarket trading following its 27% surge Monday.

Whatever his intentions, he has already woken the stock up from its slumber.

Callum Keown

*** Join Barron’s associate editor for technology Eric J. Savitz today at noon as he speaks with Paul Wick of Columbia Seligman Technology and Information Fund about the outlook for tech stocks. Sign up here.

***

Elon Musk’s Purchase Gives Twitter Its Biggest Day Ever

News that Tesla “Technoking” Elon Musk had bought a large stake in Twitter sent the social-media company’s stock up 27% on Monday, its biggest single-day gain since going public in November 2013. The gain added $8.53 billion to Twitter’s market capitalization, according to Dow Jones Market Data Group.

More than 264.8 million shares traded Monday, more than 18 times Twitter’s five-day average trading volume, according to FactSet. Twitter shares were the most actively traded on the major U.S. exchanges, and that helped lift the

S&P 500
index 0.8%, MarketWatch reported.

Musk acquired 73.49 million shares of Twitter, or 9.2% of shares outstanding, according to a regulatory filing, making him Twitter’s largest owner of common shares. Twitter founder and board member Jack Dorsey owns 2.3% of Twitter.

Musk, the world’s richest person, has a total net worth of about $273 billion, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His newly acquired shares amount to $3.67 billion as of Monday’s closing price, a $780 million gain from Friday’s close.

Musk has been in hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission for his own tweets. The SEC recently subpoenaed Musk regarding oversight of his tweets, something Musk’s lawyers have argued interferes with his First Amendment rights.

What’s Next: Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said that despite previously criticizing the platform and other social-media sites, it looks like “Elon has his eyes laser set on Twitter.” Ives expects Musk to start taking a potentially more aggressive ownership role.

Janet H. Cho

***

SEC Chair Gensler Says Crypto Markets Should Protect Investors

Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler wants crypto platforms to be registered and regulated to protect customers’ assets. He has asked the agency’s staff to study how to extend investor protections to cryptocurrency platforms, and how to register and regulate platforms where securities and non-securities trade together.

Crypto trading and lending platforms, whether centralized or decentralized, have recently traded more than $100 billion worth of crypto a day, with the top five trading platforms handling 99% of all trading. Because crypto platforms are similar to traditional exchanges, “investors should be protected in the same way,” he said.

Speaking at the annual Penn Law Capital Markets Association conference at the University of Pennsylvania, Gensler said the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission should jointly address platforms that might trade both crypto-based security tokens and some commodity tokens.

Unlike traditional exchanges, centralized crypto trading platforms take custody of their customers’ assets, Gensler noted. Last year $14 billion was stolen from platforms in cyberattacks and scams. Crypto trading platforms can also act as market makers, trading for their own accounts against customer trades.

Gensler, at an SEC event last week, said online trading platforms need stronger guard rails to protect older investors. More people accessing financial services via robo-advising, brokerage applications, and cryptocurrencies have created new ways for “scammers to confuse and defraud the public,” he said.

What’s Next: Crypto tokens that are securities should be registered with and scrutinized by the SEC, comply with its disclosure requirements, and “play by the same market integrity rulebook,” Gensler said. When new technology comes along, “our existing laws don’t just go away.”

Janet H. Cho

***

Biden Aims to Ease Supply-Chain Logjams With Truckers

President Joe Biden said 2021 was the best year since 1994 for trucking industry job growth, with 35,000 more workers than before the Covid-19 pandemic. Companies including


Domino’s Pizza
,


PepsiCo
’s
Frito-Lay, and


United Parcel Service

started trucking apprenticeship programs that could yield 10,000 drivers.

Biden’s Trucking Action Plan sought to ease supply-chain logjams by addressing the trucking industry’s needs, including driver shortages, inadequate wages, worker misclassification, workplace safety, and predatory truck leasing. States have issued more than 876,000 commercial driver’s licenses since January 2021.

The administration is encouraging more veterans, service members and women to pursue trucking careers, with paid apprenticeships, mentors, and improved workplace conditions. Hiring for long-haul truck drivers from December to mid-February was the best since the 1990s.

The U.S. moves 72% of goods by truck, but costs have increased 20% as demand soared during the pandemic. The nation is short 80,000 drivers, and 300,000 workers quit every year, making recruitment and retention efforts critical, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.

What’s Next: The Transportation Department is studying the often-unpaid hours drivers spend loading and unloading trucks, and the infrastructure law passed in 2021 includes funds for states to increase the number of sites where trucks can park and drivers can rest.

Janet H. Cho

***

Exxon Forecasts Gains From Rising Oil Prices, Russia Costs


Exxon Mobil

disclosed what it stands to gain from the run up in crude oil and natural-gas prices during the first quarter, and what it stands to lose over its exit from Russia, saying it will cost $4 billion to exit out of a liquefied natural gas project there. Oil prices are back over $100 a barrel just as the second quarter begins.

According to Exxon’s projections disclosed in a regulatory filing, the boom in oil prices in the first quarter could lift profit as much as $2.3 billion compared with the fourth quarter, while the rise in natural-gas prices could add another $400 million.

The filing also disclosed the cost of exiting the gas project known as Sakhalin-1. It was designed to tap the huge reserves of natural gas found around the Russian island just north of Japan. Exxon drilled the first well there in 2003 and owns a 30% stake in it.

Other oil companies, including


BP

and


Shell
,
are leaving behind projects in Russia after its invasion of Ukraine in February, as part of a broader exodus of Western business.


JPMorgan Chase

said Monday it could lose $1 billion on its Russia exposure.

Biden has said the U.S. will impose additional sanctions on Russia—which could target its energy, mining, or financial sectors, among others—after reports that civilians had been tortured and killed as Russian troops withdrew from areas around Kyiv.

What’s Next: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce scheduled a hearing for Wednesday morning at 10:30 a.m. to ask oil executives about the industry’s role in elevated gasoline prices, with witnesses including chairs and CEOs from BP America,


Chevron
,
Exxon, and others.

Liz Moyer

***

Crude Prices Up on Threat of New Russia Sanctions

Crude extended gains Tuesday morning, as the U.S. and Europe were expected to add to sanctions on Russia in response to mounting evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said he is working with Europe on new sanctions against Russia that could be announced as early as this week, after which the price jumped about $2-a-barrel.

West Texas Intermediate futures rose 0.5% to $103.83 a barrel, while Brent crude futures—the global benchmark—climbed 0.7% to $108.32.

The rise in oil prices since Russia invaded Ukraine in February has been reflected at the pump the world over. That is adding strain to consumers by pushing inflation rates to levels not seen since the 1970s.

Escalating fuel prices can lift the prices of other things as well. For example, the cost of diesel, used mainly for trucking and shipping, shot up 63% in the first quarter in the U.S. That, in turn, is lifting food prices.

What’s Next: Oil company executives, for their part, will appear before Congress on Wednesday to justify the hikes and explain they aren’t price gouging. While their profits from extracting crude may be growing, with prices at the highest in 14 years, they will probably argue that the price at the pump merely reflects higher input prices, and that there is little margin to be made once the oil has been refined into usable fuels.

Brian Swint

***

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