Pyramid schemes

Bill Ackman’s Persistent Lobbying Efforts Pay Off

This week was looking like one that Bill Ackman would want to forget. It began with a New York Times article that read like something Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson and Carl Icahn might have collaborated on. It continued with yesterday’s $300 million Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac hiccup. Even Ackman’s latest presentation on what he very sincerely hopes is a pyramid scheme, accusing Herbalife of breaking Chinese laws, failed to either lift his spirit or dent its stock price. But this has definitely accomplished the latter, and almost certainly the former. Read more »

An important truism in the financial markets is that there’s no such thing as a “toxic asset,” tout court; everything is toxic/dangerous/Bad at some (high) price and attractive/safe/Good at some other (much lower) price and there’s a wide area in between where things mostly live and you fight about their pricing. You can apply that insight to junk bonds or CLOs or really any number of things, and you should, but today it’s sort of fun to apply it to Herbalife. As far as I can tell the argument over Herbalife goes something like this:

Herbalife opponents: Herbalife is a horrible pyramid scheme that preys on disenfranchised, mostly poor and minority people and convinces them to part with their life savings through misleading advertising and high-pressure sales techniques.
Herbalife supporters: True! And … ?
Opponents: And therefore it will be shut down by the FTC and the stock will go to zero.
Supporters: That’s … wow, that’s just hopelessly naive. I’m gonna go buy some HLF.

Today CNBC’s Herb Greenberg has a good statement of the “horrible pyramid scheme” case, which of course has been most memorably taken up by Bill Ackman, who is betting a billion dollars on “shut down by the FTC and go to zero.” And last week Bronte Capital’s John Hempton gave the classic statement of the “hopelessly naive” case.1 As one Herbalife shareholder put it when I asked if he thinks HLF is a pyramid scheme, “in the colloquial sense, yes; in the legal sense, no.”2

Here’s how another Herbalife shareholder put it today: Read more »

  • 27 May 2010 at 11:17 AM

Is Ken Lewis’s Wife Involved In A Pyramid Scheme?

That’s what some local Charlotte TV station is alleging, claiming that Donna Lewis has been working as a sales rep for FHTM, “a multi-level marketer recently fined as a pyramid scheme.” The wife of KL doesn’t deny working for the company but takes offense to the notion that anything illegal is going down. “It is truly not a pyramid,” Lewis said. “It’s helping people in this horrible economy make a living.” Read more »