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September 11, 2020 11:45 AM, EDT

Nikola Slumps After Denial of Short Seller Report

Nikola Founder Trevor Milton said he would give away shares to 50 employees.Nikola founder and Executive Chairman Trevor Milton is seen here in a screenshot from TT's Newsmakers series. (Transport Topics)

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Just days after announcing a $2 billion agreement with General Motors Co., electric truck manufacturer Nikola Corp. is aggressively fighting back against a “short seller” who is accusing the startup of deception and lying about its electric technology.

“Yesterday, an activist short seller whose motivation is to manipulate the market and profit from a manufactured decline in our stock price, published a so-called ‘report’ replete with misleading information and salacious accusations directed at our founder and executive chairman,” Nikola said in a statement sent to Transport Topics on Sept. 11. “To be clear, this was not a research report, and it is not accurate. This was a hit job for short sale profit-driven by greed.”

Two days after Nikola and GM announced their deal, short seller Hindenburg Research, which said it specializes in forensic financial research, published an article which said, among other things, that Nikola staged a 2018 video of its hydrogen fuel cell truck driving under its own power. The report also said Nikola made deceptive claims about its efforts to develop long-range batteries.

 

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However, Hindenburg admitted it has a financial interest in Nikola, and it holds a short position in Nikola stock. (A short seller is an investor who borrows a stock and sells it on the open market, planning to buy it back, and profit from, a drop in the stock’s price.)

Nikola’s stock soared 41% a day after its deal with GM was announced to close at $50.05 a share. Then after the Hindenburg article was published on its website and on financial and trade publications’ websites, Nikola’s stock plummeted to $31 a share in midday trading Sept. 11.

Nikola founder and Executive Chairman Trevor Milton responded to the Hindenburg story on 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?”

Newsmakers host Dan Ronan

Transport Topics introduces its newest digital interview series, Newsmakers, aimed at helping leaders in trucking and freight transportation navigate turbulent times. Audience members will gain access to the industry's leading expert in their particular field and the thoughtful moderation of a Transport Topics journalist. Our second episode — "The Evolution of Electric Trucks" — featured Nikola founder and executive chairman Trevor Milton. To view the replay, complete this form.

GM added of its partnership with Nikola: “We are fully confident in the value we will create by working together. We stand by the statements we made in announcing the relationship.”

In a later tweet, Milton showed photographs of what he said were Nikola electric trucks being manufactured at the company’s facility in Ulm, Germany, with the comment: “These were planned to release later but alleged trucks didn’t exist in Ulm, Germany. Do these look fake? Thanks to the Ulm fab / assembly teams for showing the trolls what’s up.”

On Feb. 11, Nikola and Iveco announced they would produce battery-electric and fuel cell electric versions of the company’s cab-over heavy-duty truck for the European market, the Nikola Tre, at the German facility.

Nikola has retained law firm Kirkland & Ellis to “evaluate potential legal recourse, including with respect to the activist short seller and any others acting in concert.”

Phoenix-based Nikola said it also will “bring the actions of the activist short seller, together with evidence and documentation, to the attention of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.”

On Sept. 8, in a news conference with reporters, Milton and GM CEO Mary Berra announced a strategic partnership under which GM will build Nikola’s Badger pickup truck and also serve as a critical supplier of fuel cell-electric technology for Nikola’s Class 7 and Class 8 trucks.

Under the deal, GM will receive an 11% share of Nikola, valued at $2 billion, and also will have a seat on Nikola’s board, the companies announced.

GM also will be the exclusive global supplier of fuel cells for Nikola Class 7 and Class 8 vehicles in markets outside of Europe. Nikola will use GM’s Ultium battery system and Hydrotec fuel cell technology across its lineup, which includes the Nikola One, Two and Tre heavy-duty trucks, as well as the NZT off-road vehicle.

Nikola on June 3 went public through a merger with VectoIQ Acquisition Corp., a special-purpose acquisition company. On July 23, Nikola broke ground for a manufacturing facility on 400 acres in Coolidge, Ariz., where it expects to begin limited truck production in late 2021 and full production in 2023.

On Aug. 10, Nikola announced it received a minimum order for 2,500 heavy-duty electrified refuse trucks from Republic Services Inc. that could expand to 5,000 over the lifetime of the agreement. Deliveries are scheduled for 2023, with on-road testing likely to begin in early 2022.

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