Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE: HLF) was under attack yet again on Friday morning by activist investor Bill Ackman on an appearance on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” However, despite stating his case against the giant nutrition company, shares of Herbalife shares rallied before the opening bell. The rally almost feels like it was out of spite.
Ackman has been waging an outright war against Herbalife for over two years now, since he took up a short position. He has had conferences, presentations and other demonstrations against Herbalife, calling it a criminal enterprise and pyramid scheme.
The reason for coming on the show was to defend himself after reports that there has been market manipulation around Herbalife shares. While there is an ongoing investigation into the stock manipulation, Ackman said that he has not been personally contacted by investigators in this instance.
Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor, commented on the situation in a separate CNBC interview:
In terms of what he has said so far, it may be borderline manipulative, but it does not yet appear to be stock manipulation because a lot of the statements he’s making are general statements, but they are conclusory.
Previously, Herbalife did come under observation by the Federal Trade Commission just a year ago. The company may be exonerated in the probe, according to Bloomberg. However, this probe came after Ackman accused Herbalife of misleading distributors, misrepresenting sales figures and selling a commodity product at inflated prices.
The real reason Herbalife stock is up in Friday’s trading session is not really to spite Ackman or because he plans to hit the interview circuit with his campaign against the company. The rally is likely being pinned on the news that the government is looking into whether the market or stock was manipulated. Depending on that outcome, this could prove costly to Ackman in more ways than one.
Shares of Herbalife closed up 0.5% at $33.25 on Thursday. In premarket trading Friday, shares went up another 5.7% to $35.15, and shortly after the open the shares were up 8.1% at $35.94. The stock has a consensus analyst price target of $57.80 and a 52-week trading range of $27.60 to $69.69.
Is it irony or paradox when a short seller gets to state his case with such strong conviction and the stock rises?