Short-seller Chanos adds to Tesla bet, predicts CEO will leave

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Noted short-seller Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates continued to add to his short position in electric car maker Tesla Inc TSLA.O throughout the year even as the company's shares rallied, he said at the Reuters Global Investment 2018 Outlook Summit on Tuesday.

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Chanos, who first disclosed his short position in Tesla in May last year, said he expected company co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk to step down as CEO by 2020 to focus on his private rocketship company SpaceX as competitors such as BMW BMWG.DE and Porsche PSCH_P.DE expand their lines of luxury electric vehicles.

“Obviously this is not being valued as a car company, it’s being valued on Musk ... he’s the reason people own the stock,” Chanos said.

Shares of Tesla are up 44 percent for the year to date, at one point pushing the company's market value higher than competitor General Motors GM.N despite Tesla's not turning a profit.

On Nov. 1, Tesla reported its largest-ever quarterly loss and pushed back its target for volume production of its new Model 3 sedan by three months. The company said it now expects to build 5,000 Model 3s per week by late in the first quarter of 2018 from its original target date of December.

Despite the production delays, Tesla has been among the most painful for short-sellers this year, with losses among funds that bet on its decline totaling more than $4 billion this year, according to S3 Partners, a financial analytics firm.

“Put it this way,” Chanos said. “If you wouldn’t be short a multi-billion-dollar loss-making enterprise in a cyclical business, with a leveraged balance sheet, questionable accounting, every executive leaving, run by a CEO with a questionable relationship with the truth, what would you be short? It sort of ticks all the boxes.”

He said the company is burning more than $1 billion in cash each quarter and will have a harder time tapping capital markets if and when Musk leaves.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

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David Randall and Jennifer Ablan; Editing by Susan Thomas