Has the “Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffett been replaced by Elon Musk, the “Oracle of Memes”?
The futurist billionaire, chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, and world’s richest person is now also able to move markets, from cryptocurrencies to actual stocks, using a single tweet. It’s a power not seen since Warren Buffett, the financial world’s reigning cult of personality, who has long been able to lure tens of thousands of ordinary people from around the world to Omaha each year just to hear him speak.
While Musk’s cultish fan base live on social media, they too have proven they are willing put their money where his mouth is — sometimes causing chaos on Wall Street.
Musk drove Bitcoin to a record high this week when his electric car company Tesla announced that it had bought $1.5 billion worth of the cryptocurrency. But even before that he was able to send cryptos skyrocketing by just mentioning them on Twitter.
Bitcoin spiked nearly 20 percent late last month after Musk merely mentioned the digital coin in his Twitter bio. And he’s also driven up the price of Dogecoin, a meme-inspired cryptocurrency that started off as a joke, on numerous occasions, most recently with his Wednesday claim that he’d bought some for his infant son, X Æ A-Xii.
Several stocks have also surged after Musk mentioned them on Twitter — even when his posts had nothing to do with the companies or their business prospects.
The most prominent example was Signal Advance, a small medical device firm whose shares exploded more than 400 percent in a single day after Musk urged his legions of followers to “Use Signal.” He was referring to the Signal messaging app, which is owned by a nonprofit. Signal Advance’s shares retreated back to normal levels after the confusion was cleared up.
Etsy’s stock price also jumped last month after Musk said he “kinda” loved the online marketplace and its quirky homemade goods. He indicated that he’d used the site to buy his dog a “hand knit wool Marvin the Martian helm,” referring to the Looney Tunes character.
In perhaps the most bizarre case, shares of gold investment firm Sandstorm Gold briefly spiked in the early morning of Feb. 4 minutes after Musk tweeted that “Sandstorm is a masterpiece” — even though he appeared to be talking about “Sandstorm,” the 1999 hit electronic song by Finnish DJ Darude.
Buffett’s fans also followed in his footsteps, but usually by buying shares of his conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway and adhering to his folksy advice on life and investing, including his mantra to “be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.”
Musk’s fans, by contrast, appear more interested in the chase.
“Buffett is so organized and long-term, and so difficult to copy,” mused George Pearkes, macro strategist at Bespoke Investment Group. “Musk is just out there tweeting. Even he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next.
The tsunami of interest in day trading on no-fee apps like Robinhood and rising power of Reddit forums like “WallStreetBets” have only grown to empower Musk as a guru for what many on Wall Street are calling the “Stonk Bubble,” in which stocks soar despite weak fundamentals — and against Wall Street sentiment — like the recent manic short squeeze of GameStop.
“Every bubble has a face,” said Carson Block of Muddy Waters Research. “Tech, housing, all of them had a guy that went on TV and got people to move money around. Elon is the face of this bubble, which makes sense because there’s no bigger stonk than Tesla.”
Tesla only recently went from being a money-losing company — stymied by production delays and controversial moves like its 2016 acquisition of Musk’s troubled power company, SolarCity — to reporting its first full year of profits.
When Tesla was still losing money, the company’s woes attracted a number of short-sellers who openly criticized Musk’s leadership and tried to cast doubt on the company’s future. Musk took to social media and staged public pranks to fight back against his critics.
It worked. Investors last year sent Tesla shares stock up 700 percent in a move that made Musk the richest man in the world and Tesla the biggest US automaker by market value.
“Elon has thin skin,” siad Block. “The implied criticism of people being short his stock always got to him and he managed to find a way to rally people around him and make himself a Jesus figure, and it’s still working.”
It may be why Musk was able to claim solidarity with the short squeezers on social media during the “Reddit rally,” sending GameStop’s shares even higher during the most manic portion of the squeeze.
“I think amongst futurists and technologists Elon Musk has achieved something almost akin to godlike status,” said Brock Pierce, a cryptocurrency entrepreneur and chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation. “In general I think the things that Elon Musk does are for the benefit of the many. And I’m glad to see such an iconic, kind of heroic individual joining this movement, which is really what it is.”