By Hyunjoo Jin, Sinéad Carew and Akanksha Rana
(Reuters) -The market value of Tesla Inc's bitcoin holdings have fallen by half to $1.26 billion, close to the electric car maker's purchase cost, as the cryptocurrency's value plunged following a crackdown by the Chinese government.
Shares of Tesla Inc were 3% lower on Wednesday afternoon, down more than broader U.S. market indices. Chief Executive Elon Musk signaled that the company still is not selling, tweeting symbols for diamond hands https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1395027147161489412 to his 55.3 million followers.
"Diamond Hands" is a symbol used frequently on Reddit signaling the intention to stubbornly hold on to a stock or other asset.
Musk credited Tesla's "Master of Coin," referring to the title he has given Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn.
Musk has issued a stream of comments about cryptocurrencies that have sent values for bitcoin and the meme digital currency dogecoin lurching up and down over the past several weeks.
Tesla disclosed its bitcoin investment of $1.5 billion on Feb. 8. Its bitcoin holdings helped generate profits in the first quarter, through the sale of 10% of them. But the investment is also exposing shareholders to the volatile cryptocurrency market.
The Chinese government's move to bar financial and payment institutions from offering cryptocurrency services is the latest example of how crypto values can swing wildly on a single regulatory action or a tweet from a figure like Musk.
"With vehicle sales appearing to slow in China ... Tesla may once again need help to turn a profit by selling the cryptocurrency. However, with the price of Bitcoin almost 50% lower than its all-time high, Tesla's opportunity to profit on crypto sales appears less likely," said Samuel Indyk, senior analyst at uk.Investing.com.
The current market value of Tesla's stake in bitcoin is about $1.26 billion, assuming the $2.48 billion value it recorded at the end of last quarter has fallen by 49% as the trading value has done. That would put the value at slightly less than the $1.3 billion that Tesla gave as the carrying value of the stake, essentially what it paid.
Tesla said it must recognize "impairment charges" if bitcoin prices drop below their "carrying value" which "may adversely affect our operating results in any period."
But it said, "gains are not recorded until realized upon sales."
Bitcoin prices fell as low as $30,000 during the day, below the January average price of $32,734.
"The rapid drop shows what a risky move it was for the carmaker to buy into the digital asset," said David Kimberley, analyst at investing app Freetrade.
Tesla had briefly allowed customers to pay for cars using the cryptocurrency, before withdrawing that option, citing environmental concerns that hit Bitcoin prices.
"Tesla is flipflopping on bitcoin from one quarter to the next, which isn't a bullish sign for bitcoin or for Tesla," Taylor Ogan, chief executive of Snow Bull Capital, said.
Tesla's shares were trading at $557.05 shortly after 3 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, after falling in the session to $546.98, the lowest level since March 5.
The stock is down about 20% so far this year, compared with a roughly 8% gain for the S&P 500, which was last down 0.5% on Wednesday.
Tesla's stock had gained 743% in 2020 compared with the S&P's 16% advance for the year.
(Additional reporting by Peter Henderson; Editing by Richard Chang and David Gregorio)