Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE: HLF) is accomplishing two key things this morning after its quarterly earnings report. The first key accomplishment is that the stock hit a new 52-week high of $66.23, and shares are still up over 6% above $64 in very active trading volume. The second thing that the vitamin and supplements distributor is accomplishing is that it is absolutely crushing short-selling activist Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square.
Carl Icahn is laughing all the way to the bank. After a highly publicized live on-air television fight on CNBC, Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman traded personal insults to the point that it may have changed some of what the financial media wants. It was a smack-down.
It was last December, just before Christmas, when Bill Ackman’s “big short sell of a company that did not need to be in business” was disclosed as Herbalife. Upon the news breaking that Herbalife was the stock, the shares fell from $43 to almost $25 in very short order. After a snap-back recovery, the stock rose to $45, but then spent months trading between $35 and $43. Every time the company had news, Bill Ackman would issue press releases calling the company a fraud and accusing it of being a pyramid scheme.
Shares broke above $45 in May and have hardly looked back. Since the start of July, we have seen Herbalife’s common shares rise from $45 to $65. Herbalife’s old all-time high was just above $70 back in early 2012. Bill Ackman reportedly has a short sale worth around $1 billion, versus a current market cap of $6.7 billion after today’s run up.
This is a war of activists, and one that became more than just a little odd. Icahn is up more than 50% on his money, while Ackman is now losing money, and it is becoming serious money. At least one analyst thinks that Ackman is about to lose even more money for his investors.
Having participated in and having covered the financial markets for more than 20 years, Herbalife is without question the most unusual activist investor fight we have seen in the past two decades. It is highly unusual for a short seller to become such a vocal opponent and accuse a company of being such a scam that it did not deserve to exist. Then throw in another activist who jumped in because of a chance to crush a rival due to bad dealings (who was bad is up you to decide) in the past.
Icahn is looking like a real winner here, while his accusations of Ackman being a little whining kid are looking increasingly true every day. We have already seen Pershing Square issue a round of questions regarding the company’s earnings release.
The latest short interest from the July 15 settlement date shows that Herbalife had 30.212 million shares short. While this is a very large number, representing what is now about 14.5 days to cover. That is the lowest nominal short interest share count going back to before Ackman finally disclosed in December that he was short the stock.
The pre-Ackman short interest was 12 million to 13 million shares, so Ackman is taking a serious bath. One Wall Street analyst, named Timothy Ramy, just came on Bloomberg Television and called Herbalife’s earnings quality quite strong. His price target is $92 on the shares.