Investors are still absorbing the aftershocks as Bill Ackman revealed his new short position in Herbalife Ltd.(NYSE:HLF). While talking to CNBC, Ackman called Herbalife a Pyramid scheme. A short bet from Ackman is particularly noteworthy, as the investor is known for sticking to long-only investments.
The bearish bet on Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) is not new in the hedge fund world. Back in April, David Einhorn sent the stock tumbling when he raised some pointy questions in the company’s earnings call. Einhorn asked the board to elaborate how they categorized customers and distributors, and questioned their accounting principles. The stock never recovered from the spree of active selling that ensued after that. The shares dove as much as 19 percent, straight down from the highs of $70 to as low as $46. However in October’s Value Investing Congress, while Einhorn discussed his other short thesis, he made no further comments on HLF and never disclosed it as a short bet.
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Additionally, the CEO of Dialectic Capital, a top notch short biased hedge fund is also bearish on Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF), a company that he says makes “repugnant shakes.” In May, he called the company a ‘public pyramid scheme‘, words quite similar to what Ackman is using for the company now. He also called Herbalife a scam or a Ponzi scheme that is usually built around multi marketing level companies where stock continues to appreciate even when fundamentals are not favorable. He pointed out in his March quarter letter that the company builds revenue numbers by selling to distributors instead of real customers. It keeps adding distributors to the pyramid and thus shows growth.
So why Ackman built such drama and mystery around this secret short position. He has been hinting on this new short bet for many months now. The intrigue began when he mentioned a short position in his Q1 investor letter, then again at the Value Investing Congress in October. To be accurate his words were:
“it’s a good for America short … as soon as the company goes out of business, the country will be better off.”
These were big words and the patriotism that Ackman infused in them hinted that he was shorting a company with questionable ethics. While we wait for more information on this rare short position, we have to admit that it is kind of an anticlimactic. The build-up to the mystery around the short bet took us to expect a unique, or at least not an idea that had already been scrutinized so much.
Just now, Herbalife Ltd.(NYSE:HLF)’s CEO Michael Johnson said on CNBC. “The U.S. would be better off if Bill Ackman was gone.”
The war of words could continue for sometime, after all the stock fell more than 13 percent, as the CEO can get a little cranky.