Earnings conference calls are generally dull affairs that involve a lot of talk about gross margins and average selling prices.
Then there are Tesla Inc. TSLA, +4.08% earnings calls, in which anything can happen.
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk used his conference call Wednesday afternoon to rail against shelter-in-place restrictions put in place to staunch the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. After ranting early Wednesday morning on Twitter Inc. TWTR, +7.98% about the current shutdown — which has closed Tesla’s plant in Fremont, Calif. — Musk was even more forceful in his statements in the call.
“ ‘This is fascist. This is not democratic. This is not freedom. Give people back their goddamn freedom.’ ”
It is not the first time that Musk has used an earnings call to vent. Two years ago on a call that also detailed first-quarter results, Musk called an analyst’s question “boring” and “bone-headed,” trashed journalists and told investors not to buy his stock if they didn’t like volatility, then apologized for his actions three months later.
Wednesday’s rant was in response to an analyst’s question about Tesla’s liquidity position, which Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn answered directly and respectfully. Then, Musk took his turn to speak about the closure of the Fremont factory, which Tesla only shut down after direct intervention from local authorities and was reportedly set to reopen this week before the shelter-in-place was extended.
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The expansion of the shelter in place [in Bay Area] or as we call it forcibly imprisoning people in their homes, against all their constitutional rights, is in my opinion breaking people’s freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong, and not why people came to America or built this country,” Musk said.
Musk then uttered an expletive, before adding, “Excuse me. It’s causing a lot of strife to a lot of people.”
The analyst — Adam Jonas of Morgan Stanley — then asked a follow-up question that appeared designed to give Musk a chance to discuss other issues, namely infrastructure deficiencies in the U.S. and potential positive results of the current crisis. Musk used the opportunity to praise the infrastructure in China, where Tesla recently opened up a car factory, before delving back into the issue of shelter-in-place.
“This is the time to think about the future, and also to ask, is it right to infringe upon people’s rights, as what is happening right now? I think people are going to be very angry about this and are very angry,” he said. “It’s like if somebody wants to stay in the house, that’s great. They should be allowed to stay in the house, and they should not be compelled to leave. But to say that they cannot leave their house and they will be arrested if they do, this is fascist.”
The Bay Area’s shelter-in-place policy allows residents to leave the house for exercise, trips to the grocery store and other essential activities. The extension announced Wednesday broadens those exceptions to include other outdoor activities as well as more commercial activities, including construction. It will not allow Tesla to reopen its factory, however.
The conference call was meant to discuss Tesla’s first-quarter earnings report, which showed a surprise profit and sent shares higher in after-hours trading. At the end of the extended trading session, shares were up 9.2%.