Well, the praise was brief but extravagant, specifically “this is the best managed pyramid scheme in the history of the world,” which I at least would be proud to have on my resume, but I might be in the minority there. What do you think Ackman’s goal was in this morning’s 340-slide, nineteen-hour Herbalife presentation featuring phrases like “Shane’s going to come up here and talk about the accounting again” and “now I’m going to bring on our lawyer for the next 200 slides” and “here’s where it gets really interesting: shipping and handling,” and, at the 2 hour 28 minute mark, “feel free to go to the men’s room, ladies’ room, it’s at the top of the stairs, but I’ll keep going”?1 Ackman thanks several team members for working tirelessly for a year or more on this presentation, and if you watched all of it you have a pretty good sense of how they must have felt.
One model of this fight is that Ackman and Herbalife are attempting to wage regulatory battle by proxy. Presumably some SEC and FTC lawyers are watching this and the respective hopes are:
- Ackman hopes that the Federal Trade Commission will conclude that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme and shut it down, bringing the stock to zero-ish and making him a zillion dollars on his short position, and
- Herbalife hopes that the SEC will conclude that Pershing Square is a market-manipulation scheme and shut it down, causing HLF’s stock to soar.2
Neither, either, or both of these things could happen, I suppose; the FTC and the SEC are their own dogs and so you could have each running around investigating one of the protagonists here. But generally relying on a regulator is sort of a dicey proposition; even if you’re right, the regulator may have better, or possibly worse, things to do with its time than inflicting pain on your adversaries. So what does that leave you? Read more »