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Bankers look past Musk’s Twitter fickleness

Bankers look past Musk’s Twitter fickleness

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Bankers will be closely watching the legal situation play out and haven’t ruled out the possibility that the deal could still close.

NEW YORK: It isn’t the first time billionaire Tesla Inc founder Elon Musk burned his investment bankers on deals and it may not be the last.

When Musk dropped a regulatory filing late last Friday saying he was walking away from his US$44bil (RM195bil) agreement to buy Twitter Inc, some of the bankers who were backing him felt a mixture of disappointment and relief even with millions of dollars in fees at risk, according to sources.

“He did burn bankers for tonnes of time,” said Susan Wolford, a former investment banker who was vice-chair and ran the tech group at Bank of Montreal.

“You have to take this to committee, you have to do all the work for something that large.”

While Musk has said he’s walking away, Twitter has vowed to keep the deal alive and has threatened legal action.

Many of the bankers had no heads-up from Musk’s camp that the filing was coming, with one person saying that, for legal reasons, the group in the know was kept small.

Sources said they had an inkling of Musk’s second thoughts from the first time he tweeted that the deal was on hold in May.

It was the second time in five years that Musk fielded an ambitious acquisition idea that got Wall Street’s hopes up, only to change his mind.

In that 2018 episode, Musk tweeted about taking Tesla private with the claim “funding secured.”

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The Twitter agreement had made it to the announcement stage, though, with many banks lending their balance sheets and names to his effort, led by Morgan Stanley.

According to Musk’s filing last Friday, Morgan Stanley has spent much of the past two months “requesting critical information from Twitter.”

A representative for Morgan Stanley couldn’t be reached for comment.

The fee bonanza from the deal is now in peril. Twitter bankers Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co were set to earn a combined US$133mil (RM589mil) in fees once it closed, according to filings.

Morgan Stanley and the other banks working with Musk were also expected to have a big payday.

Banks and other advisers could still get a small fee even if the deal dissolves – but likely only a fraction of their take if it closed.

Even though they said Musk had lost some credibility, most of the bankers, who didn’t want to be identified, said they would jump at the chance of working with Musk again.

Musk’s business empire is the main reason. SpaceX was worth US$125bil (RM553bil) in a fundraising round in May, making it the most valuable US startup on record, according to data from CBInsights.

The bankers who stand to lose out on the Twitter deal still got closer to Musk during this process, perhaps allowing them to still feast on fees if SpaceX goes public as expected in the next few years.

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