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Jim Chanos and other Tesla short-sellers are smelling blood in the water

Key Points
  • Short interest, or bets against Tesla, have surged 41 percent since March 6.
  • Shares tumbled Thursday, a day after Elon Musk, the electric car-maker's CEO, clashed with analysts, dismissing their questions as "boring," "bonehead" and "not cool."
  • Famed short-seller Jim Chanos said the "theatrics" were intended to mask Tesla's "rapidly deteriorating finances."
Jim Chanos
David Orrell | CNBC

Short-sellers have been looking for weeks to pounce on Tesla, and CEO Elon Musk's incendiary call with analysts Wednesday could just provide more for them to feast on.

Bets against the electric car maker have zoomed 41 percent since March 6, according to S3 Analytics, which tracks short interest. That amounts to just shy of $11 billion in short interest, more than double that of Facebook.

With shares dropping more than 7 percent at one point Thursday, the flock of traders expecting Tesla to keep falling had reason to feel edified. In all, Tesla shares have slid more than 16 percent since the surge in short-selling, including Thursday's damage.

Jim Chanos to Reuters: Musk did not want investors to focus on rapidly deteriorating finances

"Don't let Musk's conference call theatrics fool you. He did not want investors to focus on his rapidly deteriorating finances," Jim Chanos, head of Kynikos Associates, said in an email to Reuters, according to a tweet from Jennifer Ablan, an editor for the wire service.

Musk stunned the market Wednesday when he rebuffed multiple analysts during his post-earnings conference call. He called their questions "boring," "bonehead" and "not cool," and spent more than 20 minutes chatting with a YouTuber on the call.

Traders punished him for it Thursday.

Shares fell as Musk's behavior only intensified worries over the company's cash burn and its ability to meet production expectations. That came even though results were not as bad as analysts had expected.

Another famed short-seller, Carson Block at Muddy Waters Capital, wondered whether the confrontation could be an indicator of something bigger happening.

5 outrageous Elon Musk moments from the bizarre Tesla call

"What happened last night is maybe the beginning of fracturing the relationship with Wall Street a little bit," Block told CNBC's Leslie Picker during an interview at a New York conference. "I don't get how they can get through the year without raising significant money. They need Wall Street to provide that funding. If that starts to fracture, that would be interesting."

Block said he is "rooting for the stock to go down" but noted that he has some long exposure as well to Tesla's shares.

Tesla has not responded to a request for comment on the Musk controversy.

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