Musk, oil prices, soccer dominate stage at Qatar Economic Forum

Tesla tycoon says $44 billion Twitter deal still pending because of ‘unresolved’ debt issues, sees near-term recession as ‘more likely than not’

Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, delivers opening speech at the Qatar Economic Forum (Amiri Diwan of Qatar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Heads of state, oil executives and the richest man in the world pondered the prospects for a U.S. recession this week during the Qatar Economic Forum.

The three-day conference in the capital city of Doha, which concluded on Wednesday, focused on matters ranging from the global economic slowdown and escalating crude prices to whether Qatar can rustle up enough beds to handle 1.2 million ticket-holders for soccer’s 2022 World Cup in November.

Elon Musk, however, stole the show when he injected new uncertainty into the question of whether he will ultimately buy Twitter and talked about where he’s spending other portions of his $220 billion personal fortune.

Musk, the 50-year-old chief executive of electric carmaker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, said there were still “unresolved matters” holding up his $44 billion bid for the popular social media platform.

“There is the question of will the debt portion of the round come together and then will the shareholders vote in favor,” he said in an interview on Tuesday with John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, who was onstage in Qatar while Musk was in the U.S. talking by video feed.

Asked about the U.S. economy, Musk said a recession is inevitable and outlined the job cuts he’s ordered at Tesla that will reduce the salaried workforce by 10%. “As to whether there is a recession in the near-term, that is more likely than not.”

Bloomberg LP was media sponsor of the conference, which was streamed live on its website. The company’s billionaire founder, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, delivered opening remarks alongside the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The event was underwritten by the Qatari government.

Among Musk’s backers in his bid for Twitter is Qatar Holding LLC, which committed to invest $375 million. The company is owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, the country’s sovereign wealth fund. 

Also onstage was ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods, who said oil companies will need three to five years to “catch up” on the investments required to assure adequate world supply. He spoke on a panel with Qatari Energy Minister Saad Al-Kaabi, with whom he also signed an investment agreement to take a 6.25% stake in Qatar’s $29 million North Field liquefied natural gas project.

Other heads of state who participated in the forum were Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Namibian President Hage Geingob and Khazakistan President Kassym-Jomart K. Tokayev.

The conference ended Wednesday with appearances by Gianni Infantino, president of the World Cup’s governing body FIFA, and the Qatari government’s chief organizer for the tournament, Hassan Al-Thawadi. Qatar, which does not have nearly enough hotel beds for the expected crowds, plans to bring cruise ships, pitch Bedouin tents in the desert and run shuttle flights to nearby Gulf states to handle the onslaught of fans.

Asked whether Qatar is prepared, Al-Thawadi said, “We’re more or less there.”

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