US securities regulator: Musk’s contempt defense ‘borders on the ridiculous’

The Securities and Exchange Commission said Elon Musk’s argument that tweeting about car production forecasts on February 19 was not material information was nearly ridiculous. (AP)
Updated 19 March 2019
0

US securities regulator: Musk’s contempt defense ‘borders on the ridiculous’

  • SEC lawyers: Elon Musk had not had a single tweet approved by a company lawyer, violating a requirement of a court-approved settlement order
  • ‘His interpretation is inconsistent with the plain terms of this court’s order and renders its pre-approval requirement meaningless’

DETROIT: US securities regulators countered Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s contempt-of-court defense Monday night, writing in court papers that he brazenly disregarded a federal judge’s order and that one of his arguments “borders on the ridiculous.”
Lawyers for the Securities and Exchange Commission, in a response to Musk, wrote that when the contempt motion was filed in February, Musk had not had a single tweet approved by a company lawyer, violating a requirement of a court-approved settlement order.
The October securities fraud settlement stemmed from tweets by Musk in August about having the money to take Tesla private at $420 per share. But Musk didn’t have the funding secured. Tesla and Musk each had to pay $20 million in fines and agree to governance changes that included Musk’s removal as chairman.
SEC lawyers led by Cheryl Crumpton wrote in a response to Musk’s defense that he interprets the settlement order as not requiring pre-approval unless Musk decides the tweets are meaningful to investors. The agency said Musk’s argument that tweeting about car production forecasts on Feb. 19 wasn’t material information is nearly ridiculous. “His interpretation is inconsistent with the plain terms of this court’s order and renders its pre-approval requirement meaningless,” the lawyers wrote.
US District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan will decide if Musk is in contempt and whether he should be punished. The SEC said no hearing is necessary on the matter “because there appear to be no disputed issues of material fact.”
Musk’s lawyers wrote last week that the Feb. 19 tweet merely restated previously approved disclosures on electric car production volumes. They wrote that the tweet, which was published after the markets closed, neither revealed material information, nor altered the mix of data available to investors.
The lawyers also accused the Securities and Exchange Commission of censorship and of violating Musk’s First Amendment rights by imposing a prior restraint on his speech.
But the SEC lawyers wrote that submitting statements for approval does not mean Musk is prohibited from speaking. “As long as a statement submitted for pre-approval is not false or misleading, Tesla would presumably approve its publication without prior restraint on Musk,” they wrote. The SEC also wrote that Musk waived any First Amendment challenge to the order when he agreed to it.
Musk’s lawyers also argued that the SEC’s motion for contempt is an over-reach that exceeds its authority. But the SEC said enforcement of the order is up to the judge, who has broad powers to enforce court orders.
Monday’s filing said the Feb. 19 tweet was different from prior public disclosures by the company. Also, Musk has regularly published tweets with “substantive information” about the company and its business, the SEC contended.
Musk’s 13-word Feb. 19 tweet said that Tesla would produce around 500,000 vehicles this year, but it wasn’t approved by the company’s “disclosure counsel,” the SEC has said.
The lawyer quickly realized it and summoned Musk to the company’s Fremont, California, factory to help write a correction. The company would make vehicles at a rate of 500,000 per year, but it wouldn’t produce a half-million in 2019.
Musk’s response by former Enron prosecutor John C. Hueston of Newport Beach, California, said that the settlement allows Musk “reasonable discretion” to determine if his communications would require the lawyer’s approval. In the case of the Feb. 19 tweet, Musk determined that it did not.
Legal experts say it’s unlikely that Musk will be punished severely, but the commission wants to get on the record that Musk violated the terms, to prepare for any future violations.
The tweet was posted and corrected after US markets had closed, but experts say regulators don’t care much about that because stocks are traded nearly around the clock. Tesla’s stock rose by just $1.10, or less than 1 percent, the next day.


Saudi energy minister recommends driving down oil inventories, says supply plentiful

Updated 19 May 2019
0

Saudi energy minister recommends driving down oil inventories, says supply plentiful

  • Oil supplies were sufficient and stockpiles were still rising despite massive output drops from Iran and Venezuela
  • Producer nations discussed how to stabilise a volatile oil market amid rising US-Iran tensions in the Gulf, which threaten to disrupt global supply

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said on Sunday he recommended “gently” driving oil inventories down at a time of plentiful global supplies and that OPEC would not make hasty decisions about output ahead of a June meeting.
“Overall, the market is in a delicate situation,” Falih told reporters before a ministerial panel meeting of top OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia.
While there is concern about supply disruptions, inventories are rising and the market should see a “comfortable supply situation in the weeks and months to come,” he said.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Saudi Arabia is de facto leader, would have more data at its next meeting in late June to help it reach the best decision on output, Falih said.
“It is critical that we don’t make hasty decisions – given the conflicting data, the complexity involved, and the evolving situation,” he said, describing the outlook as “quite foggy” due in part to a trade dispute between the United States and China.
“But I want to assure you that our group has always done the right thing in the interests of both consumers and producers; and we will continue to do so,” he added.
OPEC, Russia and other non-OPEC producers, an alliance known as OPEC+, agreed to reduce output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from Jan. 1 for six months, a deal designed to stop inventories building up and weakening prices.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters that different options were available for the output deal, including a rise in production in the second half of the year.
The energy minister of the United Arab Emirates, Suhail Al-Mazrouei, said oil producers were capable of filling any gap in the oil market and that relaxing supply cuts was not “the right decision.”
Mazrouei said the UAE did not want to see a rise in inventories that could lead to a price collapse and that OPEC would act wisely to maintain sustainable market balance.
“As UAE we see that the job is not done yet, there is still a period of time to look at the supply and demand and we don’t see any need to alter the agreement in the meantime,” he said.
US crude inventories rose unexpectedly last week to their highest since September 2017, while gasoline stockpiles decreased more than forecast, data from the government’s Energy Information Administration showed on Wednesday.
DELICATE BALANCE
Saudi Arabia sees no need to boost production quickly now, with oil at around $70 a barrel, as it fears a price crash and a build-up in inventories, OPEC sources said, adding that Russia wants to increase supply after June.
The United States, not a member of OPEC+ but a close ally of Riyadh, wants the group to boost output to bring oil prices down.
Falih has to find a delicate balance between keeping the oil market well supplied and prices high enough for Riyadh’s budget needs, while pleasing Moscow to ensure Russia remains in the OPEC+ pact, and being responsive to the concerns of the United States and the rest of OPEC+, the sources said earlier.
Sunday’s meeting of the ministerial panel, known as the JMMC, comes amid concerns of a tight market. Iran’s oil exports are likely to drop further in May and shipments from Venezuela could fall again in coming weeks due to US sanctions.
Oil contamination also forced Russia to halt flows along the Druzhba pipeline — a key conduit for crude into Eastern Europe and Germany — in April. The suspension, as yet of unclear duration, left refiners scrambling to find supplies.
Russia’s Novak told reporters that oil supplies to Poland via the pipeline would start on Monday.
OPEC’s agreed share of the cuts is 800,000 bpd, but its actual reduction is far larger due to the production losses in Iran and Venezuela. Both are under US sanctions and exempt from the voluntary reductions under the OPEC-led deal.
REGIONAL TENSIONS
Oil prices edged lower on Friday due to demand fears amid a standoff in Sino-US trade talks, but both benchmarks ended the week higher on rising concerns over disruptions in Middle East shipments due to US-Iran political tensions.
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are running high after last week’s attacks on two Saudi oil tankers off the UAE coast and another on Saudi oil facilities inside the Kingdom.
Riyadh accused Tehran of ordering the drone strikes on oil pumping stations, for which Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi militia claimed responsibility. 
Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs said on Sunday that the Kingdom wants to avert war in the region but stands ready to respond with “all strength” following the attacks.
“Although it has not affected our supplies, such acts of terrorism are deplorable,” Falih said. “They threaten uninterrupted supplies of energy to the world and put a global economy that is already facing headwinds at further risk.”
The attacks come as the United States and Iran spar over Washington’s tightening of sanctions aimed at cutting Iranian oil exports to zero, and an increased US military presence in the Gulf over perceived Iranian threats to US interests.