Six Takeaways From What Elon Musk Said at Qatar Economic Forum

Elon Musk covered everything from the state of his deal to buy Twitter Inc. to the direction of the American economy and planned job cuts at Tesla Inc. in an appearance at the Qatar Economic Forum Tuesday.

The chief executive officer of Tesla and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. even waded into US politics, saying that he was yet to decide who to back in the next presidential election when asked directly if he’d consider supporting Donald Trump.

Wearing a white shirt and grey suit jacket, the world’s richest man was articulate and to the point in the video link-up, fielding a raft of questions over the 20-minute discussion.

Here are the top things Musk spoke about in an interview with Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait:

‘Unresolved matters’ remain on Twitter deal

“There is the question of, will the debt portion of the round come together and then will the shareholders vote in favor,” Musk said.

The billionaire said last month that he was putting the takeover “on hold” while he investigated how many of Twitter’s users were real people, and later filed a formal letter with the Securities and Exchange Commission in which he told Twitter executives he might walk away from the deal if the company didn’t do more to prove the actual size of its user base.

Musk told the forum on Tuesday he would focus on “driving the product” at Twitter, though he doesn’t necessarily plan to be the CEO.

US recession “inevitable” at some point

The electric-car pioneer told Tesla executives earlier this month that he had a “super bad feeling” about the economy, according to an internal email seen by Reuters. Seeking to quell a surge in living costs, the Federal Reserve accelerated its monetary-tightening campaign last week with its biggest interest-rate increase since 1994.

A recession in the US is inevitable at some point, he said Tuesday. “As to whether there is a recession in the near-term, that is more likely than not.”



Tesla job cuts

“Tesla is reducing its salaried workforce roughly 10% over the next three months or so,” Musk said, reiterating plans revealed in an email earlier this month. “We expect to grow our hourly workforce. We grew very fast on the salaried side, grew a little too fast in some areas.”

But he also provided more clarity on the employee-reduction plans Tuesday, saying the cuts will result in an overall reduction of some 3% to 3.5% in total headcount at Tesla, as hourly staff numbers are still expected to grow, Musk said.

Tesla, now headquartered in Austin, Texas, has grown to about 100,000 employees globally, hiring rapidly as it built out new factories in Austin and Berlin. The cuts, which have affected human resources representatives and software engineers, caught many by surprise, with several employees told they were being terminated immediately.

“A year from now, I think our headcount will be higher” in salaried and hourly workers, he added.

Supply chain issues

Supply constraints are the biggest brake on Tesla’s growth, rather than competition from rival automakers.

“Our constraints are much more in raw materials and being able to scale up production,” he said.

Musk earlier this month said the EV pioneer has had a “very tough quarter” as it struggles with supply-chain snags and urged workers to help get production back on track.

“As anyone knows who has tried to order a Tesla, the demand for our cars is extremely high and the wait list is long,” he said. “This is not intentional and we’re increasing production capacity as fast as humanly possible.”

Trump and US politics

Asked whether he would support Trump in the next US presidential election: “I’m undecided at this point on that election.”

His comments are significant as last week Musk indicated that he was leaning toward supporting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has positioned himself as a staunch conservative and heir apparent to Trump.

Musk said last week that he voted Republican for the first time in the primary election in Texas.

Praising China

Musk has long had a cosy relationship with China, including being the only foreign automaker allowed to wholly own its local operations there and receiving support for its Gigafactory near Shanghai.

Asked Tuesday whether he sees any issue with balancing his Tesla interests in China with the future acquisition of Twitter, Musk said the social-media and discussion platform doesn’t operate in the country and “China does not attempt to interfere with the free speech of the press in the US, as far as I’m aware.”

He went on to praise Chinese firms, saying “I am very impressed with the car companies in China, just in general companies in China. I think they’re extremely competitive, hard-working and smart.”

Qatar’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Qatar Investment Authority and Investment Promotion Agency Qatar are the underwriters of the Qatar Economic Forum, Powered by Bloomberg. Media City Qatar is the host organisation.