Friday, December 28, 2012
Bill Ackman enters the city of Stalingrad
A few days ago I wrote a post describing shorting multi-level marketing schemes as akin to the Battle of Stalingrad.
Little did I know that Bill Ackman was shorting well over a billion dollars in Herbalife stock. [If you need the figure you can back work it out from comments in this BBC interview.]
Ackman has publicly said his target for the stock is zero - and the size of his position (huge both with respect to the company and his fund) and the ferocity of his attack means that his only honourable out is the total collapse of Herbalife.
Moreover Ackman is a very wealthy man controlling funds considerably larger than Herbalife's resources. He has said he can't be bought off. The only way Herbalife is going to get rid of him is by totally defeating him.
This is the hedge-fund equivalent of Stalingrad. Someone is going to lose big. And the victor will be so bloodied that the word victory will sound hollow...
For a short-seller who is as risk-averse as me watching this is pure hedge-fund porn.
PS. I am utterly convinced by everything in Bill Ackman's presentation except the final conclusion - that Herbalife's stock will collapse. I took a long position on Christmas Eve. I suspect that Herbalife is so profitable and so powerful they will see Mr Ackman's attack off - and the easiest way to do that is to buy back stock (and make the stock go up). Mr Ackman has given them the incentive to return their huge (but tainted) profits to shareholders (and I plan to be a recipient shareholder).
PPS. Ten years ago Ackman's old fund (Gotham Partners) wrote a defence of a multilevel marketing scheme called Pre-Paid Legal Services. They were long (which turned out OK in the end). The PDF document was called: "A Recommendation for Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc". If anyone has a copy of the original PDF I would appreciate it. These days the report is only remembered because Gotham wrote the bullish report and sold stock into the subsequent rise. Elliot Spitzer investigated (an investigation that went nowhere).
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