Twitter, Tesla, Neuralink, SpaceX: The Week That Ran on Elon Musk Time
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Twitter, Tesla, Neuralink, SpaceX: The Week That Ran on Elon Musk Time

Propensity for ambitious, fuzzy deadlines is now on display at the social-media platform

By TIM HIGGINS
Mon, Dec 5, 2022 9:09amGrey Clock 4 min

The past week offered a dizzying display of Elon Musk’s multitasking range.

In the space of a few days, he showed off a monkey typing using a brain chip from his Neuralink startup, delivered an all-electric semitrailer from Tesla Inc., planned rocket launches at SpaceX and personally got involved in a high-profile account suspension at Twitter Inc., among much other activity.

It all highlighted an aspect common to Mr. Musk’s ventures, what some closer observers call “Elon Standard Time.”

That somewhat-joking, somewhat-on-the-nose shorthand refers to Mr. Musk’s habit of promising a new product or feature in the near term, which ends up being pushed off to a fuzzy future date—weeks, months or even years later.

Supporters say it is an example of how the world’s richest man motivates his teams to accomplish tasks that might have seemed impossible—such as landing rockets with SpaceX or building Tesla into a profitable electric-car giant.

Mr. Musk, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, in the past attributed his missed deadlines to the same optimism that enables him to take on daunting tasks.

The latest delay happened Friday. Mr. Musk had set that as the tentative date for the relaunch of a beefed-up version of the company’s Twitter Blue subscription service, an effort that could make the platform less reliant on advertising dollars, but as of late Saturday the rollout hadn’t happened.

It was the third scheduling lapse for Twitter Blue since Mr. Musk completed his Twitter acquisition in late October. Advertisers were told by Twitter employees that the relaunch could come this week, according to people familiar with the matter.

Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment about the subscription service and the deadlines.

Mr. Musk is racing to remake the social-media company as what he calls Twitter 2.0. As part of that, he cut half the workforce, and many other employees left on their own when offered a choice between severance and “long hours at high intensity.” Advertisers are pulling back in the midst of concern about the platform’s content-moderation strategies and the general pace of change, as Twitter faces losses.

This past week was a stark example of all the plates Mr. Musk now has spinning. At Twitter, he also battled with the tech colossus Apple Inc. and personally announced the suspension of Kanye West’s account after the rapper and designer posted an anti-Semitic image.

At Tesla, Mr. Musk came through on one of his big promises with the delivery of the electric truck—albeit three years after he initially said it would arrive.

“Sorry for the delay,” Mr. Musk told a crowd gathered Thursday night for the Semi delivery at Tesla’s factory outside Reno, Nev. “The sheer amount of drama between…five years ago and now is insane. A lot has happened in the world, but here we are, and it is real.”

The night before the Semi celebration, Mr. Musk held an event in Fremont, Calif., for Neuralink to show off the work of his brain-computer company with a video of “telepathic typing” from a monkey that had a Neuralink implant. In 2019, Mr. Musk predicted that the company could begin human testing as soon as 2020. On Thursday, he said it should now be six months away.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., as Mr. Musk’s rocket company is formally known, had more routine delays, postponing a launch planned for this past Thursday using one of its Falcon 9 rockets after conducting additional inspections of the booster and reviewing data, according to a tweet. SpaceX didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The company said Tuesday on Twitter that it conducted another major engine test for Starship, the rocket system it has been developing. While Mr. Musk has discussed possible dates for the first-ever Starship orbital flight, the company hasn’t attempted such a mission yet.

Delays in rocket-development programs aren’t uncommon, and Mr. Musk has made several predictions that have come and gone for his space ambitions.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president, has said delays are worth it to ensure that technical goals are met. “We have achieved everything we have wanted to—never in the timeline,” Ms. Shotwell said earlier this year at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “We fail on timeline, but that feels like the right fail to make, as opposed to not achieving what you’re trying to achieve.”

Maikel Mertens, a Tesla owner in the Netherlands, created a parody website in 2019—elontime.io—which makes light of how Mr. Musk’s timelines tend to stretch. He has dubbed his website the “Elon Time Converter,” which jokingly promises to calculate “the time drift between the Elon timezone…and the universal timezone.” A user enters a promised time, and the website cheekily pops out what it might mean. Six months, for example, might be two years.

Some people aren’t laughing. Tesla faced litigation over bullish statements that Mr. Musk made about increasing Model 3 car production only to see months of delays and headaches. Tesla denied wrongdoing, and the lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge, who noted that Mr. Musk had qualified his projections. “Federal securities laws do not punish companies for failing to achieve their targets,” the judge wrote.

In 2018, a Tesla shareholder at the company’s annual meeting asked Mr. Musk about deadlines. “As a long-term investor, I hate to say this, but I feel like my trust in Tesla’s timelines sort of eroded a little bit with the Model 3 ramp,” the man said. “So should I keep discounting things on Elon time or…have you learned anything about this?”

“I do have…an issue with time,” Mr. Musk responded. He said his younger brother, Kimbal Musk, would have to be creative with him as children to catch the bus, telling him it was earlier than it actually was.

Mr. Musk chalked it up to his being a naturally optimistic person, added that he probably wouldn’t have pursued the seemingly impossible effort of breaking into the worlds of car-making and rocket-launching if he were any other way.

“I kind of say when I think it can occur, but then I’m typically optimistic about these things,” he said. “Like it pretty much always happens but not exactly on the time frame.”

—Patience Haggin, Micah Maidenberg and Alexa Corse contributed to this article.



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Is the Stock Market Near Its Top?

Don’t let the hum of the bull tune out signs warning that a bear may be lurking.

By ANDY KESSLER
Mon, Jul 15, 2024 3 min

The third season of the terrific show “The Bear” blends family dysfunction with the ups and downs of high-end restaurants. With markets chasing new highs—get out those Dow 40000 hats—this column is about a different kind of dysfunctional beast. Is the market bear dead, or is it about to sneak up on us?

A U.S. equity strategist told me the story of a Japanese portfolio manager who sat in his office in July 1987 asking for stock ideas. The strategist’s model was based on a proprietary survey of investor sentiment, though it never really worked. Nonetheless, he read off a list of dozens of stocks. The portfolio manager then asked if he would kindly put in an order for 20,000 shares of each. The Dow Jones Industrial Average peaked at 2722 in late August and crashed 22.6% on Oct. 19.

A friend was a portfolio manager of a massive growth-stock fund in 1999. He told me he bought shares of Yahoo, Cisco, F5 Networks, Infosys and others every day because money flowed into his fund every day. The tech-heavy Nasdaq index peaked on March 10, 2000. As money began to flow out, he had to sell every day. By year’s end, Nasdaq had fallen by more than half.

I met Cathie Wood as she was filing papers for her “disruptive innovation” funds—to “change the way the world works.” Her ARK Innovation exchange-traded fund, ARKK, launched in October 2014 and charges 0.75% management fees. In 2020 it was up 153% as stimulus money flew in, driving more buying. ARKK peaked in February 2021 with $28 billion in assets. Since then, its net asset value is down 70%, even amid a roaring bull market, especially in tech. Morningstar recently calculated that Ms. Wood’s Ark Invest funds have destroyed more than $14 billion in wealth. One of my favorite Wall Street sayings is, “Don’t mistake a bull market for brains.”

In almost every bull run, stock momentum lures in investors at the worst moment, I call them momos, ensuring they get burned when the buying stops. Since 2009, excepting a few brief sell-offs, cash has been trash. That made some sense during the era of zero interest rates. But now with higher inflation and short rates above 5%? Confusing. Maybe investors are already anticipating another Donald Trump antiregulation pro-growth presidency, forgetting that he is married to a growth-killing pro-tariff agenda. Is the bear dead, or does it have a long fuse?

Predicting stock markets is a fool’s errand. My Series 7 test for General Securities Representative Qualification lapsed long ago, so you won’t get investment advice from me. But there are warning signs.

Have we run out of buyers? Sometimes there are triggers that scare them away: oil shocks, viruses, bank failures. But sometimes they simply collapse from exhaustion. More than 40% of households reportedly own stocks—a higher percentage than in 2000. It was 20% in 2010. Some market indicators also point to asset managers being fully invested. Who’s left to buy?

Market breadth is concerning. The 1973 market peak was driven by stretched valuations of the Nifty Fifty, which included IBM , Coca-Cola and GE but also Polaroid and Xerox . Fifty? Now it’s the Magnificent Seven: Alphabet , Amazon , Apple , Meta , Microsoft , Nvidia and Tesla . Seven? Artificial-intelligence hype, way ahead of even the rosiest of realities, drove Nvidia to make up almost a third of the S&P 500’s first half gains. Another quarter came from Amazon, Meta, Microsoft and Eli Lilly . Maybe fat bulls need Mounjaro.

Stock values feel divorced from reality. The so-called Warren Buffett indicator—the ratio between total stock-market value and gross domestic product—was 138% in March 2000. It’s now 196%. Certainly not a buy signal. And Bitcoin, my go-to bubblicious bat signal, is down about 20% since March. A dead canary?

“Don’t worry, be happy,” the bulls sing. Inflation is slain, and the Fed will cut rates. But investors won’t like the reason for those cuts. We’re already seeing earnings disasters—Nike, Walgreens , Lululemon , Delta and Wells Fargo . If the economy slows, earnings glitches and stock implosions become contagious. Plus, banks’ exposure to commercial real estate is scary, with buildings being dumped at huge haircuts almost weekly. This is now infecting rental buildings, and there are signs of a private housing glut. Inventory in Denver is up nearly 37%. Sure, markets climb a “wall of worry,” and bull markets tend to last longer than people expect, but sometimes the nightmares are real. Recessions are like honey to bears.

Even writing about the bear is bullish. Bull runs end when everyone is a believer. Still, another favorite saying of mine is, “No one’s ever lost money taking a profit.” Someday, cash will be king again. I prefer to buy stocks when everyone hates them.

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