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Trevor Milton loses billionaire status as Nikola stock hits 52-week low

Early employees Milton gifted with some of his options are begin to unload

Indicted Nikola founder Trevor Milton sold an additional 7 million shares last week.

As Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA) sunk to a 52-week low this week, founder and former Executive Chairman Trevor Milton lost his paper billionaire status.

Some of the 50 early employees of the startup electric truck maker who received founders’ options as a gift from Milton in September 2020 are beginning to unload them. 

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings show that 147,153 options exercisable at $1.06 each were sold between March 22 and Wednesday this week. It is unclear how many employees sold options for which they received the share price at the time less the option price and taxes. 

The largest sale was 136,153 options on March 29, according to SEC Form 4 records. Because those shares technically belong to Milton as part of more than 2.3 million options he received last June, they are reported as his personal transactions. The options expire in June 2028.

It is unlikely Miltion exercised any of the options for himself because he sold 3.5 million shares on March 31, collecting $49 million at $13.89 a share. 

Another threat looms

Nikola shares face another pressure point April 30 when an extended lockup on early investors and board members expires. That allows them to sell up to about 74 million shares. Milton was allowed to begin selling his 91.6 million shares on Dec. 6. He has sold about 11 million shares, including the most recent disposal. 

If another selloff happens, Nikola may need to upsize a planned secondary stock offering. The company registered to sell shares in March. CEO Mark Russell told FreightWaves it would happen within the next 12-18 months. The offering would exceed the $100 million placeholder on the SEC filing.

Most of Nikola’s cash on hand is dedicated toward building an assembly plant in Coolidge, Arizona, where production of Nikola Tre cabover Class 8 trucks is expected to begin this quarter. The model based on the IVECO S-Way initially will be assembled from kits imported from Ulm, Germany, where Nikola and IVECO have a manufacturing joint venture.

It needs more money to build its first hydrogen fueling station, also in Arizona, this year.

Milton down to hundreds of millions

Milton, once a regular and sometimes combative regular on Twitter and in business media, has been silent since resigning from Nikola last September. He could not be reached for comment Friday through his spokespeople. The company declined comment for this story.

Though certainly rich by any reasonable measure, Milton’s net worth has plummeted with Nikola’s stock price. He was listed among the dozen youngest billionaires on the Forbes 400 in September 2020 when his shares were worth $3.3 billion. Forbes this month included Milton in its Top 10 of SPAC billionaires. He was No. 9 at $1.1 billion.

Based on Friday’s closing price of $10.98, Milton’s stake is worth about $868.3 million.

The long fall

When Nikola shares closed Thursday at $10.63, it was the lowest since the company went public in a reverse merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) VectoIQ last June. 

Prior to the business combination, Nikola shares traded under the ticker VTIQ. They moved little from their $10.00 per share price until the merger neared. A few days after its NASDAQ listing, shares traded intraday at $93.99, briefly eclipsing the valuation of 118-year-old Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F).

The stock has generally been in decline since, buffeted by waves of bad news, canceled business deals and delays in keeping promises Milton made.. 

The worst and most sustained hit followed a report by short seller Hindenburg Research last September that claimed Milton lied about the company’s early achievements and technology prowess. Nikola conducted an internal investigation and reported that Milton had made nine statements included in the Hindenburg report that were partially or wholly untrue.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.