Nikola Shares Sink On Short-Seller Claims Founder Milton Overstated Tech Capabilities

Nikola Shares Sink On Short-Seller Claims Founder Milton Overstated Tech Capabilities

Two days after Nikola Motor’s shares surged on surprise news of a far-ranging manufacturing and technological tie-up with General Motors the hydrogen truckmaker is falling after an analyst with a short position in the stock claimed founder Trevor Milton has misrepresented its capabilities for years. 

The lengthy, hard-hitting report, “Nikola: How to Parlay An Ocean of Lies Into a Partnership With the Largest Auto OEM in America,” was written by Nate Anderson, a CFA whose Hindenburg Research says it specializes in forensic financial analysis. Anderson noted that “after extensive research, we have taken a short position in shares of Nikola Corp.”

Among the accusations, the “breakthrough” battery system Milton said Nikola was working on last year doesn’t exist and Nikola has claimed to have designed technology and vehicle components purchased from other companies as its own, according to the report. “We have never seen this level of deception at a public company, especially of this size,” Anderson said. 

Shares of Nikola fell 9% in morning Nasdaq trading Thursday to $38.57 at 11:30 a.m.

“Nikola has been vetted by some of the world’s most credible companies and investors,” the company tells Forbes. “We are on a path to success and will not waver based on a report filled with misleading information attempting to manipulate our stock.”

Milton also responded via Twitter: “It makes sense. Tens of millions of shares shorted the last day or two to slam our stock and hit job by hindenburg. I guess everything is fair game in war, even a hit job. I know who funded it now. Give me a few hours to put together responses to their lies. This is all you got?”

The largest U.S. automaker’s decision to partner with Milton’s ambitious but unproven startup to build its Nikola Badger electric pickups and supply batteries and fuel cells, while also taking an 11% stake, sent Nikola shares up 41% for the day. The move boosts the odds Nikola, which won’t generate meaningful revenue for at least two years, can get its heavy-duty electric trucks into production (more or less) on schedule and take Elon Musk’s Tesla Semi in the race to commercialize zero-emission trucking. It also complements Nikola’s previous alliances with companies including Bosch, Meritor, European truckmaker Iveco, Nel Hydrogen and solar panel giant Hanwha.

The runup in Nikola’s value since it listed shares in June has made Milton a wealthy man, putting the 38-year-old on the Forbes 400 for the first time in 2020, at No. 249. 

Nikola’s decision to use GM’s battery system was a surprise because Milton had said last year the company was developing its own new chemistry that would be a breakthrough. On a call Sept. 8 conference call, he said it’s a near-term cost decision to use GM’s Ultium system, though “our next steps will be where I get together with with GM, and the other battery suppliers, and and talk about if (Nikola’s) technology could be utilized or implemented to help them drive down their costs as well.”

Nikola’s core business is to be semi-trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells and batteries and a network of fueling stations to power them. The hydrogen is to be made by Nikola, relying mainly on electrolysis to extract the element from water using renewable electricity. The company has 14,000 orders for the emission-free trucks, led by beermaker Anheuser-Busch, with plans to begin delivering hydrogen models in 2023. Prior to that, it will sell battery-powered trucks produced with partner Iveco in Europe, and is building a plant in Arizona to produce its Nikola One, Two and Tree models.

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