- Perhaps nobody had a better year, financially speaking, than Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
- The billionaire saw his wealth more than quintuple during a pandemic that's left hundreds of thousands dead and many more out of work.
- Yet the magnate takes a very small salary, instead relying on massive stakes in his companies to accumulate wealth.
- With Tesla's stunning performance this year, it's no surprise that those equity values have also swelled.
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Financially, there is likely no one in the world who has had a more successful 2020 than Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Musk - who was already a multi-billionaire going into 2020 - has seen his net worth more than quintuple over the course of the year. The Tesla CEO's net worth grew by $129 billion, as of Monday - an increase of 469.9%, according to Bloomberg's Billionaire Index.
Here is how Musk got so much richer in 2020:
Business Insider charted Musk's net worth on the 1st and the 15th of every month, through December 1. We monitored bimonthly dates in an effort to avoid exaggerating the extreme peaks and drops in estimations of Musk's wealth, as many billionaires gain or lose billions of dollars in a single day thanks to fluctuations in stock prices. This is particularly salient for Musk, whose coffers swell and shrink virtually in-step with Tesla's equity value, while he takes the minimum legally allowed salary from Tesla.
Tesla's stock price, the biggest source of 2020 gains for Musk, soared to new heights this year. Already the world's most valuable automaker, Tesla was worth nearly $645 billion with only one trading day left in the year. That's a 689% increase since January 1, and a massive tailwind for Musk, who, with an 18% stake, is easily its largest shareholder.
But his small salary, at least on paper, left Musk, in his own words, "cash poor." Like plenty of other well-to-do C-suiters, he still relies on mortgages and credit for daily life. "Some people think I have a lot of cash," Musk told a major investor, Cathie Wood, on a podcast last year. "I actually don't."
Yet despite the small salary, Musk was still the world's highest-paid executive last year thanks to a highly complex compensation package that awards him tranches of stock options when Tesla achieves increasingly difficult stock, revenue, and profitability performance metrics.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment about Musk's compensation. Regulatory filings show shareholders overwhelmingly approved the performance awards in 2018, and, as of August, Musk had unlocked two of the total tranches
Much of that equity in Tesla - and his stake in SpaceX, a private company - is also pledged as collateral for mortgages and other loans. That leaves his final stakes in the respective companies valued at slightly less than their face value. This discounting is used by Forbes' famous wealth estimates as well as Bloomberg's billionaires index.
Bloomberg pegged Musk's wealth at around $158 billion as of December 15, with about $110 billion, or roughly 70% of that sum, from Tesla stock and options, with another $18.7 billion from equity in SpaceX. A final $7 billion in Bloomberg's calculations is tied up in cash, homes, cars, and other assets.
Here's what that looks like broken down by percentages:
In May 2020 - in the middle of a pandemic that caused headaches for Tesla's factories in California and China - Musk said he planned to sell "almost all" of his physical possessions, including the multiple homes he owned at the time.
And by the end of the year, Musk made good on earlier threats - at least in part -by moving himself and his charitable organization from California to Texas.
"Tesla and SpaceX obviously have mass operations in California," Musk said at a conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal in early December. "In fact, it's worth noting that Tesla is the last car company still manufacturing cars in California. Space X is the last aerospace company still doing significant manufacturing in California. There used to be over a dozen car plants in California, and California used to be the center of aerospace manufacturing. My companies are the last two left."
"For myself, yes, I have moved to Texas," Musk continued. "We've got the Starship development here in South Texas where I am right now ... and then we've got big factory developments just outside of Austin for Giga Texas."
Beyond the symbolism following a spat with local health regulators, the move could save Musk a pretty penny on income taxes.
It's not clear where, exactly, in Texas Musk may be calling home. In moving to Texas, he'll be joining a growing cohort of former Californians and Silicon Valley expats in a long-running exodus to the Lone Star State that's only been intensified by pandemic-induced work-from-home orders.
What's almost certain to continue, though, is Tesla and SpaceX's growth. The automaker is on track to meet its goal of selling 500,000 units this year, analysts say, with increased demand in China and the US helping spur the continued trend. SpaceX, meanwhile, is in discussions about another round of funding that could raise its valuation as high as $92 billion, sources told Business Insider in December.
Musk has also flirted with the idea of combining his various ventures - from brain-engineering Neuralink to tunnel-building Boring Company - under one roof.
And as for Tesla's value in 2021? Analysts are split. Some analysts - like JPMorgan's Ryan Brinkman - say it's just a fraction of current prices, while bulls - including Wedbush's Dan Ives - believe there's even more room to run.
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