16 July 2016

Your Daily Schadenfreude

Almost two years ago, I mocked hedge fund manager Bill Ackman's jihad against Herbalife.

The nickel tour was that he went heavily short on Herbalife, and then he aggressively lobbied regulators to shut the company's business model down.

Ackman's actions were a primer on how Wall Street types used the political and regulatory processes in an attempt to enrich themselves.

He asserted that Herbalife's business model was essentially a pyramid scheme, and now the FTC has ruled against some of the supplement manufacturer's business practices, but the ruling was limited, and Ackman's short bets will not pay off:
For nearly four years, Herbalife has been locked in a fierce Wall Street battle with billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman. But on Friday the dietary supplements seller scored an enormous victory in this fight.

The Federal Trade Commission said on Friday that it had charged Herbalife with deceiving consumers into believing they could earn substantial money selling diet nutritional supplements, but it did not determine that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme or fraud like Ackman had alleged for years. Herbalife said on Friday it will pay $200 million in a settlement with the FTC. The settlement will force Herbalife to change some of its key business practices, but the regulatory investigation of Herbalife will not end with the type of knock-out blow that Ackman clearly had hoped.

The FTC did make strong accusations against Herbalife, claiming that Herbalife’s compensation structure was unfair because it “rewards distributors for recruiting others to join and purchase products in order to advance in the marketing program, rather than in response to actual retail demand for the product, causing substantial economic injury to many of its distributors.”


Still, the FTC settlement looks to be another big setback for Ackman, whose Pershing Square hedge fund is under pressure after suffering large losses over the last 12 months, mostly from a disastrous big bet on Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a company with a stock that has crashed. Pershing Square has a long-running and very large short position in Herbalife.


Ackman’s Pershing Square Holdings has already plunged by 19.1% this year after falling by 20.5% in 2015, and Ackman’s assets under management have fallen sharply. Ackman has suggested that he would continue to pursue his crusade against Herbalife even if his effort to get U.S. regulators to shut the company down was unsuccessful. He once said he would go “to the end of the earth” in his battle against the company and became teary eyed on a stage when describing the damage he believed it had done.


Michael Johnson, Herbalife’s longtime CEO who has been at the forefront of the company’s battle against Ackman, argued the settlement was a big win. The company also announced that it had reached a $3 million settlement of an investigation conducted by the Attorney General of Illinois that had also hung over the company. “The settlements are an acknowledgment that our business model is sound and underscore our confidence in our ability to move forward successfully, otherwise we would not have agreed to the terms,” Johnson said in a statement.
It's nice to see a self styled hedgie "geniuses" taken down a few notches.


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