Herbalife remains one of the most polarizing stocks on Wall Street, as it has outspoken investors on both sides of the spectrum. While Bill Ackman is the most outspoken bear on the company (and Carl Icahn has been very vocal on his bullishness), one Seeking Alpha contributor who’s also been bearish on it for some time has finally come out of the shadows.
Who is Quoth the Raven?
For years, the blogger known only as Quoth the Raven has kept his identity a secret to most. Now he’s revealed himself as Chris Irons of Philadelphia. There’s been plenty of speculation regarding his identity as he kept cranking out article after article about Herbalife.
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It should be noted that Irons is short on Herbalife by owning put options that will increase if Herbalife shares decline. He also has some hedges in place and said he hasn’t broken even on his position yet. ValueWalk reached out to Herbalife regarding Irons’ article, but the company declined to comment.
Although not formally trained in stock analysis, he is basically self-taught, and he said he wants to protect the working class. He said his family, like many others, lost money in the 2008 financial crisis, but they weren’t sure exactly how they were affected by things in the markets that they’re not at fault for. As a result, he decided to learn what he could about the markets and try to protect people like his family.
His first experience with fraud
Irons points us to a company he personally invested in in 2010 and 2011, which the Securities and Exchange Commission pursued for misstating some assets. JBI eventually faced charges of accounting fraud, and he was unhappy with how the company’s investor relations handled communication with investors regarding the issue.
JBI was his first experience with investigating financial fraud in a company, as he called it his “project” before Herbalife. After much due diligence, he decided JBI really had the technology it claimed to have, so he decided to try to help it turn things around. Eventually he left, however, after his investment became essentially worthless.
He said he once hated the skeptics of JBI, but now he embraces them because they showed him “many ways to try and poke holes in public companies that may be obfuscating the truth.” He has since turned these methods on Herbalife.
Why pursue Herbalife?
Irons called Herbalife “the quintessential situation” he was “hoping to shed clarity on for people.” He said the multi-level marketing company has been around for more than three decades “based solely on the fact that people aren’t privy to exactly how the company operates.”
He accuses Herbalife of pursing “people that do not have the business acumen or the financial sophistication to understand what their odds are at success, and what an MLM business model truly entails.” In general, Irons doesn’t seem to like MLMs at all saying it was “always clear [to him] that MLM companies weren’t reasonable ways to conduct business.”
Herbalife accused of being an “egregious fraud”
Irons started researching Herbalife in 2012, and he said he didn’t even know who Bill Ackman was at that time, although he had heard the activist investor’s name before. He said after listening to both sides of the debate and reading “every document known to man” about Herbalife, he came to the conclusion that “while companies like Tupperware could exist legitimately, Herbalife seemed” to him to be a pyramid scheme.
He emphasized that Pershing Square has never paid him for anything and that he has conducted his research entirely independently of Ackman’s firm. He even went so far as to say that Herbalife may be the most “egregious fraud” he has ever run across. He believes the nutritional supplements company will soon “collapse under its own wait” and that it must “be shut down in its entirety in order to prevent future harm.”
QTR on the investigations
Recently it emerged that consultants hired by Pershing Square (which is short) to investigate Herbalife have been interviewed by the authorities regarding potential alleged market manipulation. No one has been accused of any wrongdoing here, and Irons thinks the investigation is a good thing.
He also said some investors with long positions are also being investigated on their side. He suggests that people conspiring against Ackman to try to force him into a short squeeze might be “the actual market manipulation” here.
Further, he said he has no dispute with Herbalife distributors and think some good people work at the company and perhaps don’t know they are “perpetuating a pyramid scheme.”
As has been the trend with Herbalife stock recently, the bears speak, and the stock rises. As of this writing, shares were up 1.75% to $45.45 per share.