Paper Wealth is Real Wealth

On various online discussions, usually in regard to Elon Musk’s wealth (or other billionaires, but it is usually Elon Musk given his fame and wealth), is that the reason he cannot ‘do more’ in terms philanthropy is that his wealth is paper wealth, not real wealth, and thus it’s not like having money.

Regardless of what you think Elon Musk should or shouldn’t do with his money, is irreverent to the fact that this is one of the dumbest distinctions I have ever heard. When someone says that Elon Musk or Bezos’ wealth is not real because it is in stock instead of in cash, they have no idea what they are talking about. It is real.

As long as there exists a market to exchange said shares into cash, then it is effectively the same thing as having the cash in hand. The markets for Amazon and Tesla are among the most liquid in the world, exchanging billions of dollars of shares a day into cash. Same for almost all large traded companies (one of the advantages of being a public company is access to this liquidity). Even private companies can have considerable liquidity, and founders, early employees ,and early investors can sell their shares in secondary markers without too much of a problem.

Collectibles which are illiquid could be an exception to this. In this case, turning art into cash is considerably harder compared to real estate or stocks.

For Musk to turn his Tesla shares into cash is as simple as either selling some of them on the open market or to an investment bank in exchange for a lump payout. Or he can use the shares as collateral for a lump payment if he is unable to sell them. Then the investment bank can hedge that position through options (buying puts or selling calls against the position to make it market neutral), and taking a commission. Either Musk would pay a fee upfront, or sell shares at a slight discount from the market price to allow the investment bank to book a mark-to-market profit. There are tons of ways to do it. Founders of private companies will do this too, but to private buyers, exchanging ownership for cash. The point is, given the liquidity of these markets, shares are effectively cash. This belief that shares are not real wealth is just nonsense that needs to die.

1 comment

  1. Hi, smartistone.

    I know that you are bullish on large tech companies, like TSLA and FB. What do you think of smaller tech ones, like SNAP or PINS? Their stocks are more volatile, though

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