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Elon Musk, short on cash, keeps borrowing more and more money even as Tesla stock surges

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Tesla Inc. may be selling more stock to help fund its global expansion, but its billionaire chief executive officer is taking a different approach for his personal cash needs: he’s borrowing it.

Elon Musk has US$548 million in personal loans from Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bank of America Corp., according to a regulatory filing Thursday, an increase of about 8 per cent since Tesla’s previous disclosure in May.

Tesla will sell about US$2 billion of common stock to help fund capital expenditures, the electric-vehicle maker said in the filing. Musk, 48, and fellow billionaire Larry Ellison, a member of the company’s board, have vowed to personally purchase US$10 million and US$1 million of shares, respectively.

The recent rise in Tesla shares has helped boost Musk’s net worth by about 50 per cent this year to US$40.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Still, he told a judge as recently as December that he’s short on cash. His holdings in Tesla and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. comprise most of his wealth, and he hasn’t sold any of his Tesla stock for years.

Instead, he has tapped banks for loans, using his stake as collateral. Pledging shares is a way to monetize equity without actually selling it. Most publicly traded companies prohibit the practice out of concern that it can affect an executive’s decision-making.

Tesla provides “flexibility in financial planning without having to rely on large cash compensation or the sale of company shares,” the board said in its proxy filing last year.

Musk has a long-term incentive award that could net him more than US$50 billion if all performance targets are met. He receives no salary or bonuses.

Meanwhile, the stock surge continues. Tesla shares advanced 4.5 per cent to US$801.59 at 3:04 p.m. in New York.

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