Kicking, poking, slapping, spitting upon and otherwise disparaging Bill Ackman is something of a sport among the hedge fund and hedge fund-adjacent set. It’s practically a right of passage. Everyone’s done it: Carl Ichan, of course. George Soros. Dan Loeb. David Einhorn. Some Australianeccentric. Congressman Ed Royce. Warren BuffettandCharlie Munger. Even Joe Biden.
Now, Leon Cooperman is not a man known for keeping his opinions to himself, especially if those opinions are composed of a string of unkind words. But to date, the grizzled old veteran has declined to partake in the fun and cast the aspersions that flow so freely from others’ lips, and from his own when speaking about, say, Barack Obama. In fact, he says, he’s always defended Ackman. Until now!
"While I am always praising of you as a person and an intellect if I agree to say something it will be supportive of the company and critical of you. Just a heads up. I have no dog in this fight as I gave away all my stock to charity when I retired from the board (should have held the stock and give cash!), but this is a quality management that has done a great job over many years for the shareholders," Cooperman wrote in an email to Ackman obtained by CNBC's Scott Wapner.
"Their financial policies have always been balanced and intelligent, management is rationally compensated, they have spun out businesses showing no interest in building empires and they have a level of client satisfaction and retention second to none. The idea that you can tell these guys how to run their business doesn't strike me as intelligent or appropriate," he added.
So just what is this incredibly stupid idea that has turned Bill Ackman’s last friend against him? Why, it’s a last-minute half-baked plan to take over Automatic Data Processing, which Ackman recently bought 8% of and on which board Cooperman served for 20 years. Unsurprisingly, ADP isn’t taking it well—and is getting in on the “say mean things about Bill Ackman” bandwagon at the same time.
In a statement, ADP chastised Mr. Ackman for seeking a delay in its director-nomination deadline. It defended Mr. Rodriguez and the board and took a swipe at Mr. Ackman’s own investing performance, which has lagged.
An 8% stake would amount to about $4 billion and make it one of the biggest current bets for Mr. Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management LP, which has struggled in recent years…. ADP drew a contrast with Mr. Rodriguez’s six-year tenure. ADP shares returned about 164%, including dividends, between the time he took over and when Mr. Ackman’s stake surfaced, besting the 120% return of the S&P 500 over the same period. Including a spin-off, the company said the total return is 202%.