You’ve Decided to Buy Twitter, So Who Are You Going to Call?  Investment Banks, of Course

Elon Musk. (Photo from the Associated Press.)

That’s what Elon Musk did in April 2022.  In early April, Musk purchased about 9% of Twitter’s shares.  On April 25, he became the owner of Twitter by buying the roughly 90% remaining shares for $54.20 per share. The total he paid for these remaining shares came to $44 billion. Following his often unorthodox style, Musk announced his plans in a tweet on Twitter. Where did he get the money to fund such a large purchase? 

According to Forbes magazine, in March 2022, Musk was by far the richest person in the world with total wealth of about $270 billion—nearly $100 billion more than Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who is the second-richest person.  While it appears that Musk could afford to buy Twitter without having to borrow any money,  Bloomberg estimated that in April 2022 Musk had only $3 billion in cash. Much of his wealth was in Tesla stock or his ownership shares in SpaceX and the Boring Company, both of which are private companies that, therefore, don’t have publicly traded stock. Musk was reluctant to fund all of his offer for Twitter by selling Tesla stock or finding investors willing to buy into SpaceX and Boring.

Musk turned to investment banks to help him raise the necessary funds. Investment banks, such as Goldman Sachs, differ from commercial banks in that they don’t accept deposits, and they rarely lend directly to households. Instead, investment banks have traditionally concentrated on providing advice to firms issuing stocks and bonds or to firms (and billionaires!) who are looking for ways to finance mergers or acquisitions.  A syndicate of investment banks, including Morgan Stanley (which served as Musk’s lead adviser), Bank of America, Barclays, and what an article in the Wall Street Journal described as “nearly every global blue-chip investment bank aside from the two [Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase] advising Twitter,” put together the following financing package. Initially, Musk wanted to raise $46.5 billion in financing—more than in the end he needed. Of that amount, Musk would provide $21 billion and the investment banks would provide loans for the remaining $25.5 billion. As collateral for the loans, Musk pledged $60 billion of his Tesla stock. 

Musk’s financing was a combination of equity—the $21 billion in cash—and debt—the $25.5 billion in loans from investment banks. To fund his equity investment, he was considering selling some of his stock in Tesla but hoped to attract other equity investors who would put up cash in exchange for part ownership of Twitter. According to press reports, Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm was considering becoming an equity investor. (As we saw in Chapter 9, Section 9.2, private equity firms raise equity capital to invest in other firms.)  Musk’s purchase is called a leveraged buyout (LBO) because (1) he relied  on borrowing for a substantial part of his purchase of Twitter and  (2) he intended to take the company private—the company would no longer have publicly traded stock.

Why would Musk want to buy Twitter? He shared the view of some industry analysts that Twitter’s management had failed to take advantage of opportunities to increase the firm’s profit. The actions of Musk and the investment banks were part of the market for corporate control. As we discuss in Microeconomics, Chapter 8, Section 8.1 (Macroeconomics, Chapter 6, Section 6.1), in large corporations there is often a separation of ownership from control. Although the shareholders legally own the firm, the firm’s top management controls the firm’s day-to-day operations. The result can be a principal-agent problem with the management of a large firm failing to act in the best interests of the firm’s shareholders. The existence of a market for corporate control in which outsiders buy stakes in firms that appear to be poorly managed can make firms more efficient by overcoming these moral hazard problems.

             But Musk had another reason for buying Twitter. As he stated in an interview, “Having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization.”  It was unclear whether this and similar statements meant that  after gaining control of Twitter he might take actions that won’t necessarily increase the firm’s profitability. 

            Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter is a high profile example of the role that investment banks can play in determining control of large corporations. 

Sources: Kurt Wagner, “Elon Musk Lands Deal to Take Twitter Private for $44 Billion,”, April 25, 2022; Cara Lombardo and Liz Hoffman, “How Elon Musk Won Twitter,” Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2022; Michele F. Davis, “Elon Musk Vets Potential Equity Partners for Twitter Bid,”, April 21, 2022; Sabrina Escobar, “Elon Musk Isn’t Twitter’s Only Problem. It Faces a Number of Short-Term Headwinds,”, April 21, 2022; Cara Lombardo and Liz Hoffman, “Elon Musk Says He Has $46.5 Billion in Funding for Twitter Bid,” Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2022; Andrew Ross Sorkin, Jason Karaian, Vivian Giang, Stephen Gandel, Lauren Hirsch, Ephrat Livni, and Anna Schaverien, “Elon Musk Wants All of Twitter,” New York Times, April 14, 2022; Rob Copeland, Rebecca Elliott, and Cara Lombardo, “Elon Musk Makes $43 Billion Bid for Twitter, Says ‘Civilization’ At Stake,” Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2022; “The World’s Real-Time Billionaires,”, April 24, 2022; Musk’s tweet announcing his offer to buy Twitter can be found here.

Elon Musk Makes Tesla a Multinational

In 1901, U.S. Steel became the world’s first corporation with a stock market value greater than $1 billion.  In October 2021, Tesla joined Alphabet (Google’s corporate parent), Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft as the only U.S. corporations whose stock market value exceeds $1 trillion. (The Saudi Arabian Oil Company is the only non-U.S. firm with a market value above $1 trillion.) 

As large U.S. corporations developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a key problem facing them was how to allocate the firms’ scarce financial capital across competing uses. (A thorough—and lengthy!—discussion of the development of the modern U.S. corporation is Alfred Chandler’s book, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business.) By 1940, many large corporations had formed executive committees comprised of the chief executive officer (CEO), the chief operating officer (COO), and other so-called C-suite executives.

Executive committees typically don’t become involved in the day-to-day operations of the firms, leaving those responsibilities to lower level managers. Instead, executive committees devote most of their time to strategic issues such as whether to introduce new products, where to locate sales and production facilities, and how much of the firm’s resources to devote to research and development and to marketing. The decisions that an executive committee concentrates on involve how best to allocate the firm’s financial capital, funds that come from investors who buy the firm’s stocks and bonds and from the firm’s retained earnings—the firm’s profits that aren’t distributed as dividends to the firm’s shareholders. In allocating these funds, executive committees face trade-offs of the type we discuss in Chapter 2. For instance, if a U.S.-based firm uses funds to build a factory in another country, it may not have the funds to expand its domestic factories.

Allocating the firm’s financial capital will not have much effect on the firm’s profits in the short run but can be the main determinant of the firm’s profitability—and even its survival—in the long run. For instance, the failure of Blockbuster Video to expand into offering rentals of DVDs by mail or to offering a movie streaming service, resulted in the company shrinking from having 4,000 stores in the early 2000s to a single store today. In contrast, the decision in 2018 by U.S. pharmaceutical firm Pfizer to partner with BioNTech, a small German firm, to develop vaccines using messenger RNA (or mRNA) biotechnology proved very profitable for Pfizer (and saved many lives) when the Covid-19 virus led to a worldwide epidemic.

At Tesla, CEO Elon Musk has final say on strategic decisions, a situation typical of many large firms where a single executive, through stock ownership, has control of the company. One of his key decisions has been where to locate his production facilities. In making this decision, Musk faces trade-offs in how to use the scarce funds the firm has available for expanding production capacity. Building a facility in one place means not being able to fund building a facility in another place. In addition, funds used to build new factories is not available to increase research and development on autonomous cars or on other improvements to car design or technology. 

Initially, Tesla operated a single factory in Fremont, California. Built in 1962, the factory had been owned by General Motors and then jointly by GM and Toyota before being sold to Tesla in 2010. In 2019, Tesla began construction of a second factory in Shanghai, China and in 2021 was awaiting final governmental approval to build a factory in Grünheide, Germany.

Why would Tesla, or another U.S. firm, decide to build factories in other countries? The simplest answer is that firms expand their operations outside the United States when they expect to increase their profitability by doing so. Today, most large U.S. corporations are multinational firms with factories and other facilities overseas.  Firms might expect to increase their profits through overseas operations for five main reasons:

  1. To avoid tariffs or the threat of tariffs. Tariffs are taxes imposed by countries on imports from other countries. Sometimes firms establish factories in other countries to avoid having to pay tariffs.

2. To gain access to raw materials. Some U.S. firms have expanded abroad to secure supplies of raw materials. U.S. oil firms—beginning with Standard Oil in the late nineteenth century—have had extensive overseas operations aimed at discovering, recovering, and refining crude oil.

3. To gain access to low-cost labor. In recent decades, some U.S. firms have located factories or other facilities in countries such as China, India, Malaysia, and El Salvador to take advantage of the lower wages paid to workers in those countries.

4. To reduce exchange-rate risk. The exchange rate tells us how many units of foreign currency are received in exchange for a unit of domestic currency. Fluctuations in exchange rates can reduce the profits of a firm that exports goods to other countries. (We discuss this point in more detail in Economics, Chapter 28, Section 28.3 and in Macroeconomics, Chapter 18, Section 18.3.)

5. To respond to industry competition. In some instances, companies expand overseas as a competitive response to an industry rival. The worldwide competition for markets between Pepsi and Coke is an example of this kind of expansion.

All of these reasons, apart from 2., likely played a role in Tesla’s decision to build factories in China and Germany.

In 2021, Tesla was building a factory in Austin, Texas. It was also moving its corporate headquarters from California to Texas. With these actions, the firm may have been responding to lower taxes in Texas and lower housing costs for its workers.

In October 2021, Tesla’s $1 trillion stock market value seemed very high relative to the profits it was currently earning and also because it made Tesla’s value greater than the values of the next nine largest car makers combined. The price of its stock reflected the expectation among investors that Tesla’s profits would increase in future years. Tesla’s decisions about locating its new factories would play a key role in determining whether that expectation turns out to be correct. 

Sources: Rebecca Elliott and Dave Sebastian, “Tesla Surpasses $1 Trillion in Market Value as Hertz Orders 100,000 Vehicles,”, October 25, 2021; Al Root, “How Tesla Gained $175 Billion in Value From Hertz’s $4 Billion Order. It Makes Perfect Sense,”, October 26, 2021; Bojan Pancevski and Jared S. Hopkins, “How Pfizer Partner BioNTech Became a Leader in Coronavirus Vaccine Race,”, October 22, 2020; William Boston, “Tesla Awaits Green Light for Production in Germany,”, October 12, 2021; Niraj Chokshi, “Tesla Will Move Its Headquarters to Austin, Texas, in Blow to California,”, October 13, 2021; and Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977; and