Accounting for Bitcoin at Tesla
On February 8, 2021, Tesla revealed, through its 10-K filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), that it had purchased $1.5 billion of Bitcoin, totaling 7.5% of the company's cash, and that it planned to accept payments in the cryptocurrency soon. These announcements came at the heel of the sixth straight quarter of positive GAAP profit and the first profitable fiscal year in the company's history. The revelation about Tesla's Bitcoin purchases were met with mixed reactions by stock investors and market participants. This case centers around the accounting treatment of Bitcoin at Tesla: what does the accounting treatment say about Bitcoin as an asset, and what are its implications for Tesla's profitability under the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or Elon Musk's compensation incentives? The case also raises questions about whether investing in Bitcoin is consistent with the company's strategy or could be deemed a form of speculation, and whether Musk's public communications about cryptocurrencies (e.g., his cryptocurrency-related "Tweets") constitute a form of market manipulation.