Analyst Defends Hebalife After Nielsen Study: Big Upside Ahead Against Ackman

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Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE: HLF) has been nothing short of a battleground stock for short sellers and active traders looking for oversold bargains for a half-year now. It appears the company now has a new champion coming to its aid after Carl Icahn voted his money in favor for the company against short-selling activist Bill Ackman. Analyst Scott Van Winkle of Canaccord Genuity has maintained a Buy rating and a price target of $63 for the stock, after a Nielsen study shows that the company does have a very wide customer base, as it has been defending.

Van Winkle said:

We believe Herbalife’s efficient business model along with deployment of its daily consumption models globally will continue to drive double-digit revenue and earnings growth. … The shares trade at just 8-times next year’s projected earnings, or a 40% discount to the direct selling peer group.

The $63 price target assumes a P/E ratio of 12 based on 2014 estimates.

Herbalife released its latest survey results, broadening the scope and utilizing Nielsen this time to complete a consumer survey of more than 10,500 adults. This survey asked consumers about purchases of multiple brands to hide Herbalife as the sponsor. It was said to have corroborated prior research by Lieberman about the breadth of consumer purchases at 7.9 million adults, or about 3.3% of the population. Lieberman concluded that 5% of respondents had made purchases. The survey also concluded that some 87% of purchasers were not distributors.

Shares of Herbalife are up 6% at $46.07, against a 52-week trading range of $24.24 to $56.39. Ackman likely is feeling some pain, because the Herbalife share price was $41.90 on the day before his short-sale position was disclosed. Shares ultimately traded down to less than $30, and briefly even under $25 when Ackman openly blasted this vitamin and supplement company before anyone came to the company’s defense.

The long and short of the matter is that Herbalife shares are now up about 10% from before the Ackman short sale was made public. The stock is also up a whopping 85% or so from where it was at the crush-depth bottom last December.

By the way, Bill Ackman has issued negative statements and tried to make public bashes in the media each time that a big rally has occurred. We almost certainly expect that to be the case here as well. We did notice that the Herbalife short interest was just released and had fallen by 6.2% to 30.99 million shares as of May 31, versus the 33.058 million shares short as of May 15.

As we warned over and over, BEWARE OF AN ACTIVIST INVESTOR BUBBLE.