Bill Ackman

It’s a little surprising that it took this long for someone to sue Herbalife, isn’t it? Whether or not Bill Ackman is right about Herbalife being an illegal pyramid scheme, he did take the trouble of writing like 300 pages about it, which is usually more than enough to inspire some intrepid class action lawyer to cut and paste the most damaging claims into a complaint and see where it goes. Perhaps they were stymied by converting from PowerPoint. Anyway here you go:

California resident Dana Bostick is suing Herbalife under racketeering and corruption laws, accusing the company of being an “inherently fraudulent pyramid scheme.” …

While Herbalife has settled suits brought by former distributors in the past, Bostick is the first to go to court since Herbalife became a battleground of hedge fund titans. Ackman has faced off against Dan Loeb and Carl Icahn, who owns a 15 percent stake in Herbalife. … The suit, which also seeks class-action status, claims around 88 percent of Herbalife’s 500,000 US distributors do not make any money.

The complaint is here and it’s … mostly it’s just sad. On a first reading it’s not entirely clear how you should apportion blame for the sadness; I don’t know if this says more about Herbalife or Dana Bostick: Read more »

That or he’s going to burn all his clothes and replace them exclusively with items exclusively purchased at the retailer, or hell, just move into the place. Whatever it takes to show he’s more committed to this place than ever. Read more »

CAN YOU FEEL THE EXCITEMENT? No, right? Okay good. A senior audit partner at KPMG Los Angeles did a bad thing and “was involved in providing non-public client information to a third party, who then used that information in stock trades involving several West Coast companies.” And now KPMG has resigned as the auditor of a couple of companies, and withdrawn their 2010/2011/2012 audit reports, which, given that 10Qs are due in a couple of weeks, is a bummer for those companies. Bob’s Auditing Service & Carwash of Rancho Palos Verdes is going to be busy.

And of course one of the companies is Herbalife, which has really had more than its share of excitement. Honestly if I was insider trading I’d probably pick a company a bit further from the limelight?1 Anyway HLF was halted for most of the morning while while they puttered around thinking things over, only to eventually release a pretty bland press release that stresses that KPMG resigned “solely due to the impairment of KPMG’s independence resulting from its now former partner’s alleged unlawful activities and not for any reason related to Herbalife’s financial statements, its accounting practices, the integrity of Herbalife’s management or for any other reason.” It eventually re-opened down 2.3%.

The other company is … currently a player to be named later? Speculation is focusing on Skechers, a California-based KPMG client that was also halted, which seems plausible enough. Who knows? [Update: Yep, Skechers.]

Okay further baseless speculation! Read more »

Not back in the day, when Icahn was running the Southeastern Queens chapter of the Jewish Crips and not today, as the elder hedge fund manager presumably maintains ties with the organization, whose members stay current on his various investing nemeses and won’t hesitate to fuck someone up. Read more »

If you’re an activist investor your job is to (1) think of an idea for how to make a company’s stock go up, (2) buy stock in the company, (3) convince them to do your idea, and (4) sell high. Step 3 tends to involve lots of attention-seeking – it’s easier to wear a company down into doing your idea if they’re constantly hearing about it from other shareholders and reporters and stuff – but steps 1 and 2, importantly, don’t.1 If you tell everyone about your great idea for Apple to issue GO-UPS,2 then they’ll all realize that Apple will certainly do it and unlock tens of billions of dollars of value, so they’ll bid up the stock before you can buy it and you’ll lose the opportunity to benefit from all those gains. That may be a bad example but just work with me here.

There’s another way of putting that, which is: if you secretly conceive of an idea to make Apple a better company, and then secretly buy up a bunch of Apple stock, and then announce to the world “surprise! I have 12% of Apple’s stock, and a brilliant idea that starts with a thematically appropriate lowercase i!,” and the stock goes up, and you make a lot of money – isn’t that unfair? You got to buy stock at the low, pre-publication-of-your-idea price; the people who sold to you were bamboozled into selling out too low because they didn’t know about your great idea. It almost “smacks of insider trading.”

Or something. I may not be doing this theory justice because I think it’s silly: that great idea is your idea; why shouldn’t you be able to make money off of it? (And why should anyone else?) The money is your incentive to come up with the idea in the first place, and do the hard ego-stroking work of pitching it to CNBC and the target company; if you had to share it with free-riders why would you take on the responsibility? We talked about this a little last year when there were vague rumors that the SEC was buying into it, and that they might require investors to disclose 5% stakes within 1 day of acquiring them (instead of the current 10 days), and include synthetic share ownership in computing the 5%, in order to make it harder for activists to secretly accumulate shares. I have not heard much about that proposal since, though I hesitate to assign any causality.

But last week in another, colder part of town, someone proposed the same thing. Canada, I mean. Canadian securities regulators proposed: Read more »

One day Herbalife will either be put out of business by consumer-protection regulators or it won’t. If it is then Bill Ackman will make a lot of money and Carl Icahn will lose a lot of money, and if it isn’t Ackman will lose a lot of money and Icahn will make a lot of money, and in the meantime everyone will shout that everybody else should be investigated.

That’s proceeding apace. Ackman yesterday:

In a statement late Tuesday, Pershing Square Capital Management’s Ackman said that he was pleased that the NCL was requesting an FTC investigation and believes it will show that the company is a pyramid scheme.

Herbalife today:

We regret that the National Consumers League has permitted itself to be the mechanism by which Pershing Square continues its attack on Herbalife. If anything, it is Pershing Square that should be investigated by appropriate authorities. Its actions are motivated by a reckless $1 billion bet against the company based on knowingly false statements about Herbalife.

Carl Icahn, whose Herbalife position keeps growing, has also been known to make some investigate-Ackman noises.

Now Herbalife may or may not be a pyramid scheme but I’ve always thought that demands to investigate short sellers are unfair and one-sided. People who say mean things about stocks they’re short are always accused of manipulation. People who say nice things about stocks they’re long – which happens all the time – are rarely accused of market manipulation.1

But not never! I assume Daniel Ravicher is a little nuts but still, I like his style: Read more »

Henry Winkler once said, “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”1 In 2011, Bill Ackman assumed it was okay to talk to The New York Times about David Einhorn’s business and, like a homeowner forced to move out for three days while a pest control company sprays the place, he’s been forced to pay. Big time. Read more »