Commentary

Multilevel Marketer Herbalife Wins The Bet Ackman Made Against It

More than five years after Pershing Square Capital’s William Ackman launched his quixotic but persistent battle against multilevel marketer Herbalife, it has all sputtered to an end with the investor left holding an empty bag.

“Ackman, one of Wall Street’s most outspoken hedge fund managers, disclosed on CNBC on Wednesday that he had quietly unloaded his remaining positions in Herbalife — a bet that at one time had been valued at $1 billion by his Pershing Square Capital Management,” writes Matthew Goldstein for the New York Times.

“In the annals of Wall Street, investors have lost more on trades. But Mr. Ackman’s bearish bet on Herbalife was a signature event given how much time, effort and money he devoted to making his case — all in the hopes that the federal authorities would take action against Herbalife,” he continues.

“Rather than falling, shares of Herbalife have rallied 95% since Ackman first revealed plans to bet against the company. Then in November of 2017, Ackman signaled that he was less confident in his call regarding Herbalife. The billionaire converted the short position, which in theory could lead to infinite losses for Ackman, to put options,” writes Lucinda Shen for Fortune.

Indeed, “over the past 12 months, Herbalife’s stock has soared by more than 63%, advancing 11% in February, and 36% so far in 2018,” reports Mark DeCambre for MarketWatch, and it was up 6.30% on the say.

“The performance and resiliency of our company is rooted in our purpose to make the world healthier and happier,” Herbalife CEO Rich Goudis said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal,” MarketWatch’s DeCambre continues. “For those who aren’t familiar with us, or may misunderstand us, don’t be afraid to get to know us.”

Looking back, “Ackman first alleged in December 2012 that Herbalife, which sells through a network of distributors, was an illegal pyramid scheme and would be shut down by the government. He had personally pledged to take his campaign ‘to the end of the earth,’ though he added that Pershing Square would abandon the bet if it got too risky. The company says it is a legal multi-level-marketing organization and fought him at every turn, accusing the investor of market manipulation, which Mr. Ackman denied,”  David Benoit recalls for the Wall Street Journal.

Pyramid scheme, phooey. It’s a “a global nutrition company whose purpose is to make the world healthier and happier,” reads the first line of About Herbalife.

“But,” the Los Angeles Times’ Scott Deveau reminds us, “[Ackman’s] crusade had its successes. Ackman's complaints triggered an investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2014, and Herbalife ultimately reached a $200-million settlement with the agency. Under the agreement, the company had to rein in its business practices — a move that Ackman said would cripple it. In the end, the reckoning never came.”

Shortly after Ackman’s initial salvo, he and erstwhile “corporate raider” Carl Icahn got into a verbal brawl during a show hosted by CNBC’s Scott Wapner that Business Insider called “The Greatest Moment In Financial TV History,” CNBC’s Liz Moyer tells us.

“The Icahn-Ackman fight happened on Jan. 25, 2013, while Ackman was being interviewed by telephone by Wapner. Ackman was responding to attacks by Icahn the previous day over Ackman's claims that Herbalife was ‘a well-managed pyramid scheme.’ Icahn called in to the show, saying ‘Ackman is a liar’ and that he had ‘one of the worst reputations on Wall Street,’” Moyer writes.

“I’ve really about had it with this guy,” Icahn said. "He's like the crybaby in the schoolyard.”

A year later, the two later patched things up personally at the CNBC Delivering Alpha conference, as birds of a feather are wont to do. But, wrote the NYT’s Goldstein and Alexandra Stevenson, “There is still one thing they disagree on, though: Herbalife.”

Icahn won that argument but he is reportedly under investigation by federal prosecutors for “advising the Trump administration on regulatory issues that had the potential to affect the finances of a company he owns,” as Goldstein reported in November.

Meanwhile, Ackman told CNBC’s Wapner yesterday that he's “building up a position in United Technologies.”

Keeping up with these “activist” investors is a busy beat.

Next story loading loading..