Has the “Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffett been replaced by Elon Musk, the “Oracle of Memes”?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, Neb., each year just to hear him speak.
“The old guard don’t seem to have the influence on the markets that they once had,” said Brock Pierce, a cryptocurrency entrepreneur and chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation. “I think amongst futurists and technologists Elon Musk has achieved something almost akin to godlike status.”
Musk made headlines this week when his electric car company Tesla announced that it had bought $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin, sending the cryptocurrency to a record high.
But he’s sent cryptos and individual stocks skyrocketing with far more frivolous signs of support.
The most prominent example may be 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 and 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 cultish fan base, who live primarily on social media, 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.
But Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist for Prudential Financial, notes that Musk’s influence comes at a time when the nature of trading has dramatically changed. Instead of people listening to what Musk or Buffett says and investing accordingly, firms now built trading algorithms to troll influencer’s like Musk so they can act with lightening speed whenever he mentions a stock or cryptocurrency.
“Knowing the power of an Elon Musk comment or tweet is included in the brains of the algorithm,” she said. “The thinking of an algorithm is, ‘He moves markets and therefore we wanna be there.’”
And his “appeal,” noted Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at the Leuthold Group, is tied to actual accomplishments, including with Tesla and SpaceX.
“This is a guy who said we’re gonna be having private rocket-ship flights to the moon… and everyone’s gonna be driving driverless cars and on and on and on,” said Paulsen. Musk has “said a lot of things in the past that were pretty out there or would never come to pass, and they did.”
But critics say Musk is also playing with fire as the face of what many on Wall Street have dubbed 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.”
Indeed, Musk has become somewhat of a folk hero among the anti-Wall Street crowd thanks to his own battle with short seller.
Before Tesla started churning out a more consistent profit last year, the company had 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 and 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,” said 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.”
Krosby of Prudential Financial sees it differently. “It goes without saying that he has cult status. He has defied the naysayers who were willing to short Tesla and still do.”