Earlier today it was noted that, to the surprise of many, Bill Ackman and Carl Icahn had refrained from asking questions or dialing in and making sudden outbursts during this morning’s conference call to discuss Herbalife’s fourth quarter earnings. Obviously this came as a shock on account of Ackman and Icahn taking many opportunities in the past to share their feelings re: the company and each other. And while it’s true both men personally held their tongue’s today, according to Pershing Square, one of its analysts had planned to ask questions on Bill’s and the hedge fund’s behalf but was shot down. Read more »
Dueling billionaire investors Carl Icahn and William Ackman, who have gone toe-to-toe in a battle over the legitimacy of Herbalife Ltd., were silent Wednesday as the nutritional-supplements maker held a conference call to discuss its better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings. Mr. Ackman has bet against the company’s shares, setting up a more than $1 billion short position accompanied by a high-profile campaign questioning Herbalife’s business and calling its distribution model a “pyramid scheme.” Mr. Icahn, meanwhile, has taken a 13% stake in the company and said he intends to discuss potential strategic alternatives with the company, which he insists has significant growth potential. The battle has played out in the public eye, notably when the two men sparred last month in a televised war of words on business news network CNBC…Neither Mr. Ackman nor Mr. Icahn spoke on the call. A spokeswoman for Mr. Ackman’s firm declined to immediately comment on the matter. A spokeswoman for Mr. Icahn said he was unavailable to comment. [WSJ, related, related]
Yesterday Carl Icahn filed a 13D disclosing a ~13% synthetic stake in Herbalife. There are three possible reasons that Carl Icahn might want to own half a billion dollars worth of Herbalife stock:
- as a value investment in a company with strong cash flows and a beaten-up stock price,
- as a toehold in preparation for launching a tender offer to take the company private, or
- to fuck with Bill Ackman.
If you watched Icahn and Ackman square off on CNBC, or read the transcript, or witnessed some sort of dramatic recreation of it, I think you’ll join me in assuming it’s sheer fuck-with-ery. “Cry, Jewish boy, cry!,” he probably said as he signed the 13D. But who knows? He’s up $80+ million as of this morning, so two birds with one stone.
A curiosity of this position is that it’s mostly synthetic: Icahn owns about 2.5 million actual shares and about 11.5 million call options. Like so:
As we’ve discussed before, this is Icahn’s standard M.O., and it’s not because his dealers are dummies who will sell him levered upside on a stock that he can move with just a lift of his magnificent eyebrows. Read more »
If you have an opinion on whether Carl Icahn or Bill Ackman got the better of today’s amazing CNBC shoutfest over Herbalife, you have a number of options for expressing it. We’ve had like four posts so, y’know, comment away, but if you want something more formal both CNBC and Business Insider have polls you can vote on. Also if you listen to CNBC’s video you can hear in the background a bunch of men who, when not oohing and ahhing over cursing on television, spend their days running around pretending to trade stocks. Don’t be fooled, though: you can actually trade stocks, even Herbalife’s. If Icahn-Ackmania changed your view of Ackman’s short thesis on Herbalife, feel free to express that changed view with money.
As of 4pm-ish, BI and CNBC both give Ackman the win. Mr. Market goes the other way, though without overwhelming enthusiasm.1
This makes sense – as a former high school debate judge I’d score this one for Ackman too. On style alone: Icahn apparently did his interview in a zen garden surrounded by a team of silent and efficient researchers; Icahn prepped by going to a Queens schoolyard and getting in fights.
But on substance, too. Icahn’s main claim, that shorting a company and then saying mean things about it is “manipulation” or otherwise bad form, is sort of crazy; Ackman’s zen researchers helped him point out that Icahn did just that at Ira Sohn in 2003. More important, though: how does Icahn’s “you can be short, but you can’t tell anyone” thesis – as he says, “If you’re short, you go short and hey, if it goes down you make money” – hold up when applied to long investing? Read more »
When Mark Hughs founded a multi-level marketing company called Herbalife in 1980, he probably thought it had the power to do a lot of things. Help people lose weight. Makes others rich. Shake up the diet industry. What he mostly likely did not expect, however, was that his li’l company that could would reignite a feud between two billionaires that would devolve into a flurry of press releases quibbling over who was dying to be friends with whom, shouting matches on live TV, and, we predict, someone telling someone else he has a right mind to “Rip the eyes out of your head and piss into your dead skull! You messed with the wrong hedge fund manager!” Read more »
Bill Ackman Thinks Carl Icahn Is A Great Investor, Bald-Faced Liar, Person Who Will Never Gain Admittance To The Friends Of Bill Ackman SocietyBy Bess Levin
In response to Icahn telling Bloomberg he neither likes nor respects the Pershing Square founder, Bill Ackman got a couple important points of his chest last night, the first being that the feeling’s mutual, the second just a little bit of Wall Street trivia: you can tell Carl Icahn is lying if his lips are moving. Read more »