August 8, 2018 / 12:24 PM / 2 months ago

RPT-Musk plan to privatize Tesla pushes $2.3 bln of debt above conversion price

(Repeats story from Tuesday with no change to text)

By Kate Duguid

NEW YORK, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Elon Musk’s suggestion on Tuesday that he would like to take Tesla Inc private may provide something the electric car maker needs: a little debt relief.

The 11 percent jump in Tesla’s stock price following Musk’s public musings on possibly buying the company from existing shareholders drove $2.3 billion of convertible debt past the level at which investors can swap them for stock at a profit.

Tesla shares ended the day at $379.57, within reach of their all-time high and more than 5 percent above the bonds’ conversion price of $359.8676.

“This is great news for any bondholder any way you spin it,” said Ross Gerber, chief executive of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management who owns both the convertibles and the stock.

“Most of these bonds are convertible notes, so we can choose to convert into stock at a huge profit,” he said. “This is a boon for any bondholder at Tesla, because most of the bonds are convertible notes.”

Convertibles give bondholders the right to trade their debt for equity after shares rise over a certain set price.

The $2.3 billion in debt that investors can now take in equity rather than cash removes pressure from the cash-strapped company which has about $9.5 billion in long-term debt, according to its latest financial statements.

After first issuing a tweet that he was mulling the idea of taking Tesla private, Musk on Tuesday said in a letter to employees that he would prefer to run Tesla as a private company to allow it to operate away from the attention it receives due to its notoriously volatile stock price.

While no final decision has been made, he suggested a buyout price of $420 per share.

Investors like billionaire George Soros now have the option to take advantage of Tesla’s recovering share price, as the company’s $920 million convertible bond due in March 2019 passed its $359.8676 conversion rate.

Soros Fund Management LLC took a $35 million stake in the 2019 Tesla convertible bonds in May of 2018.

The company’s $1.38 billion convertible bond due in March 2021 also passed the same conversion rate.

The convertibles have oscillated between being in and out of the money several times over the last year.

They first rose above the conversion price in June 2017 and Tesla’s stock price hit a record high of $389.61 in September last year. The stock then plunged to as low as $244.59 in April as the company struggled to meet production targets for its Model 3 sedan and Moody’s Investors Service cut Tesla’s credit rating deep into junk-bond territory.

Tesla on Aug. 1 reported that it had ended the second quarter with $2.78 billion in cash after spending $610 million in capital expenses, while its negative free cash flow narrowed.

Tesla has been burning through cash as manufacturing problems have thwarted its ability to meet production targets for its Model 3 sedan.

The company also has a $1.8 billion high-yield bonds, which rose to 92 cents on the dollar on Tuesday, up half a cent and the highest since mid-June. Following the Moody’s downgrade, the bond had fallen to as low as 86.25 cents on the dollar. It now yields 6.75 percent versus more than 7.7 percent in early April.

Reporting by Kate Duguid Editing by Dan Burns and Clive McKeef

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