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When the multi-CEO Elon Musk curses out advertisers in a retaliatory defense of his company X, the public market shrugs. Thursday, after going after Disney CEO Bob Iger yet again, this time calling for his firing, Tesla stock is up 1.3%.
Musk's dramatic takeover of Twitter, his turbulent management of X, and his inflammatory public remarks on world affairs in recent weeks have generated waves of distractions for his nearly $800 billion electric vehicle company, Tesla.
And despite his inflammatory comments, Tesla is humming along. The stock's robust performance — shares doubled in value so far this year — highlights one of Musk's peculiar powers as a polarizing public figure. He can draw widespread criticism, even from some of his most outspoken boosters, but Tesla seemingly remains resilient.
Part of the reason is because investors view the company as much more than an automaker. To its most optimistic backers, as former Publicis chief strategist Rishad Tobaccowala put it, it's more like a next-generation energy company and a long play on the future of the grid and AI.
But none of this means that there aren't consequences to the fallout from Musk's headline-grabbing interview at the New York Times (NYT) DealBook conference last month. They're just not always immediately visible.
One way to see these consequences is to think about what would happen if Musk logged off X and focused on Tesla.
"I really think it's unfortunate that his investment with X is such a conflict of interest for Tesla shareholders," Ross Gerber, a longtime Tesla bull and head of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management, told Yahoo Finance Live. "But there's no doubt in my mind that it's hurting Tesla."
Gerber, whose company owns almost 400,000 shares of Tesla, equivalent to roughly $100 million, said Musk's behavior is affecting people's purchasing decisions. The company has lowered prices and is offering customers deals on using the fast charger network to power their vehicles. He anticipates Tesla will have to offer more and more sweeteners as potential buyers start to look elsewhere.
Broadly, Tesla faces a challenging mix of obstacles, from intensifying competition as legacy carmakers scramble for EV market share to uncertain EV demand and lingering concerns about charging infrastructure. Margins are declining. Regulators are also scrutinizing claims of self-driving capabilities and the range of electrified vehicles.
How, then, can a CEO effectively lead a company through such turbulence while spending significant mindshare on a separate, flailing business?
"What good is X doing Tesla?" said David Trainer, CEO of New Constructs, an investment research firm. "He hired a CEO to run it, and I see no downside to him 100% stepping away."
In fact, in Trainer's view, Tesla stock would probably surge if Musk were to announce he was leaving X.
Musk's financial entanglements also pose risks to Tesla shareholders.
"It’s hard to think of many CEOs who are the face of the company and the brand more so than Elon Musk is to Tesla," said Garrett Nelson, vice president and senior equity analyst at CFRA Research. "For example, if X advertising revenue were to drop significantly and Musk needed to sell more Tesla stock to provide funding to X, that would affect Tesla’s stock price," he said.
With Wall Street looking beyond Musk's X-related drama, there certainly isn't any recourse for shareholders who are dissatisfied with Musk's behavior and his split priorities besides selling.
"It's Elon's company, it's basically like a private company. The board isn't going to do anything for the benefit of shareholders," Gerber said. For now, at least.