Friday was certainly a day filled with twists and turns in the Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) saga. As usual, both sides of the billionaire battle had different narratives, but now that it is approaching Saturday evening, we seem to have a stronger grasp on what the facts of important parts of the story are.
At least, we seem to have additional clarity on one key fact: Carl Icahn’s shares of Herbalife were in fact being shopped, reportedly by both Jefferies and UBS.
The Wall Street Journal started the day off Friday by reporting that billionaire Carl Icahn was shopping his 18% stake in the company through investment bank Jefferies.
This report was followed by Carl Icahn buying 2.3 million more shares during the day and disclosing this after hours with a note calling Ackman “obsessive” and stating “I have never given Jefferies an order to sell any of our Herbalife shares”. He made up what appears to be a little more than 23% of Friday’s total trading volume and one could reasonably assume that he prevented a further decline in the stock, which opened lower and was at one point down about 8%.
The stock steadied and rallied toward the end of the day, presumably helped by Icahn’s buying pressure.
The question then became trying to figure out which side of the narrative was telling the truth. Surely if Icahn had “never given Jefferies an order to sell any Herbalife shares” it doesn’t mean he didn’t give them the order to shop around, right?
Early in the morning on Friday, Bill Ackman had gone on CNBC and said he was shopped shares of Herbalife. He also drew the conclusion that this meant Icahn was definitely a seller – a question of intent that’s going to be hard to prove and that still remains in the air.
Two things have happened since then.
The first was a little noticed recap of the day’s events that Reuters reported on Friday evening. Included in their wrap up was the statement that “Sources told Reuters on Thursday that Icahn was considering structuring a sale of Herbalife shares.”
It appears Reuters also had a source inform them not only that shares were being shopped, but specifically that “Icahn was considering structuring a sale.“
This appears to now be a second source.
Then, on Saturday afternoon in a CNBC exclusive, Scott Wapner reported that sources told “CNBC that two financial firms, Jefferies and UBS, were working independently to find a buyer for Icahn’s massive stake in the nutritional supplement company, but nothing ever happened.”
We now appear to have three independent sources reporting that Icahn’s shares were shopped:
- The Wall Street Journal
What does this mean? Here are two scenarios that could be likely:
- Icahn is playing some type of godfather-like chess game and is trying to get the price of Herbalife to fall so he can buy more and/or trap Ackman. Given that this is the same investor that did not know the correct ticker symbol of the stock when he jumped into it years ago, I find this to be the least likely of two scenarios. If it turns out and can be proven that this was actually the plan all along, I will give Carl an immense amount of credit.
- Or, there is the more common sense argument that the WSJ expose on Friday left Carl with little or no choice but to buy more. If he had said nothing, confidence in the stock would have probably continued to drop alongside of the stock price.
The one fact we seem to have confirmed over the last 48 hours is that Icahn’s shares were in fact being shopped. Knowing that, which do you think is the more likely scenario?