Elon Musk reverses again, ready to buy Twitter at original $63b price

Elon Musk's twitter account is seen on a smartphone in front of the Twitter logo in this photo illustration taken, on April 15, 2022.
PHOTO: Reuters

NEW YORK - Billionaire Elon Musk is proposing to go ahead with his original offer of US$44 billion (S$63 billion) to take Twitter Inc private, a securities filing showed on Tuesday (Oct 4), signalling an end to a legal battle that could have forced Musk to pay up.

An agreement would put the world’s richest person in charge of one of the most influential media platforms and end months of turbulent litigation that damaged Twitter’s brand and fed Musk’s reputation for erratic behaviour.

Musk, the chief executive of electric car maker Tesla, will take over a company he originally committed to buying in April, but soon soured on.

Twitter shares soared 22.2 per cent to US$52 at the close in New York, while Tesla shares rose 2.9 per cent.

The news comes ahead of a highly anticipated face-off between Musk and Twitter in Delaware’s Court of Chancery on Oct 17, in which the social media company was set to seek an order directing Musk to close the deal for US$44 billion.

Musk sent Twitter a letter on Monday that said he intended to proceed with the deal on the original terms if the Delaware judge stayed the proceedings. A source familiar with Twitter’s team told Reuters that at a court hearing on Tuesday morning the judge requested the two sides to report back in the evening.

It could not immediately be ascertained why Musk chose to abandon his fight. He was about to be deposed.

Twitter received Musk’s letter and intended to close the deal at the original US$54.20 price, a spokesman told Reuters.

Musk agreed in April to buy Twitter for US$44 billion and within weeks said the number of bot accounts was much higher than Twitter’s estimate of less than 5 per cent of users. Bots are automated accounts, and their use can lead to overestimations of how many humans are on the service, which is important for advertising rates and the overall value of the service.

Musk, one of Twitter’s most prominent users, claimed in July he could walk away from the deal because Twitter misled him about the number of real users and the security of user data.

Twitter’s legal team on Sept 27 said that documents obtained from two data scientists employed by Musk showed they estimated the number of fake accounts on the platform at 5.3 per cent and 11 per cent.

“None of these analyses so far as we can tell remotely supported what Mr. Musk told Twitter and told the world in the termination letter,” Twitter lawyer Bradley Wilson told the court.

The original deal was “a very seller-friendly agreement that would be very difficult to get out of,” said Adam Badawi, a law professor at UC Berkeley. Musk realised, he said, “in all likelihood it was going to result in forcing him to close at US$54.20 a share.”

If deposed, Musk faced days of questioning on whether he handed over all the evidence to Twitter that he should have and when he became aware of his own side’s bot count data, said Eric Talley, a professor at Columbia Law School.

“He was about to get deposed and a lot of uncomfortable facts were going to come out.”

Another volte-face

A settlement between the two sides would revive fears among Twitter’s users about Musk’s plans for the platform, which has removed prominent politically conservative voices. Supporters of Donald Trump hope that Musk will reactivate the account of the former US president, who was banned after the Jan 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.

A renewed commitment to the deal would give Musk, already one of the world’s most prominent and outspoken entrepreneurs, a megaphone for his views. He has used Twitter to stir controversy, including on Monday when he floated a peace plan for the Ukraine-Russia war that drew swift condemnation from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Text messages that came to light during the litigation showed that Musk planned to battle spam by verifying accounts, wanted to shift Twitter away from advertising towards subscriptions and to adopt services such as money transfers.

Bloomberg was the first to report Musk was willing to pay the original price.

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A settlement at the original price would also allow Musk to finance the transaction without any complications. If Musk and Twitter had renegotiated the price, it would have technically allowed committed backers to walk away.

Musk has already sold US$15.4 billion worth of Tesla shares since agreeing to buy Twitter. He has said he does not plan to sell any more of his stake in Tesla, but some analysts expect him to sell down his stake further to fund the Twitter deal.

Since Twitter has already received shareholder support for the sale to Musk, the deal could close quickly in the coming weeks if the two sides were to settle on the original terms. In June, Twitter said the waiting period for antitrust clearance had expired, indicating that the deal could go forward.