It’s been a tough year for hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, a reality only made more dramatic Tuesday after he stepped down from the J.C. Penney board of directors.
Ackman, head of Pershing Square Capital Management, is best known for using his ownership stake in companies like J.C. Penney to push for changes to raise the stock price. But his big investment on the turnaround at J.C. Penney hasn’t materialized and has hurt results. Shares of J.C. Penney are down 36% this year, falling 49 cents to $12.68 Tuesday.
THE COMPANY: Penney faces long recovery
Making things worse, Ackman’s public $1 billion bet against nutritional supplement maker Herbalife, which inspired rival investors to take the other side of the trade, has also turned sour as the shares have rallied, not fallen. Shares of Herbalife have nearly doubled in value this year.
“Both of those investments (are) not working out exactly how he wants,” says Michael Peltz, editor of Institutional Investor’s Alpha.
Pershing Square makes big bets on a limited number of investments, so missteps hurt. The company has direct investments in just 11 companies, says S&P Capital IQ. Some of the company’s investments include Air Products, Burger King, and Howard Hughes in addition to J.C. Penney.
All told, Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund is down 2.2% in July, according to Reuters. And while the fund is still up 3.8% this year, Reuters says, that’s not a great performance when benchmark stock indexes remain near record highs with stunning gains. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index is up 18.8% this year.
Meanwhile, Ackman has been losing money as he exchanges verbal spars with a number of his hedge fund rivals and the CEOs of two household-name companies — J.C. Penney and Starbucks.
Resignation: Ackman leaves J.C. Penney board
Pershing Square Capital Management declined to comment for this story and also declined to confirm performance data collected by Reuters.
Ackman, though, had been seeking public attention months ago before the trades went against him. He has had back-and-forth debates on cable financial news network CNBC with billionaire investor Carl Icahn about his strategy of shorting shares of Herbalife based on a claim the vitamin and nutrition company essentially functioned as an illegal pyramid scheme.
Icahn, bullish on the company, called Ackman a loser and likened him to “the crybaby in the schoolyard.” Shooting back, Ackman termed Icahn a bully and said, “This is a guy who takes advantage of little people.”
Herbalife remains a battleground for high-profile money managers. Soros Fund Management, founded by billionaire investor George Soros, recently increased its stake in the company and now counts Herbalife among its top holdings, CNBC reported in mid-August. The Soros fund also withdrew its stake from Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management over subpar performance, Reuters reported.
Separately, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz took aim at Ackman last week in the J.C. Penney battle. After Ackman called for the replacement of Mike Ullman — the retailer’s CEO and also a member of the Starbucks board — Schultz went public with pointed criticism. “What I observed happen yesterday, in my 20-plus years as a CEO, I have never seen or witnessed before,” said Schultz in a Friday interview with The Huffington Post news website, in which he cited a letter attacking Ullman that Ackman apparently leaked to the media.
“It’s despicable,” added Schultz, who characterized the leak as a breach of Ackman’s fiduciary duty as a Penney’s board member.
Hedge fund manager Dan Loeb, whose Third Point fund has reportedly bought into Herbalife, has also appeared to weigh in on Ackman in recently. On Monday, several news organizations reported that Loeb used his Bloomberg financial terminal to post a message that read: “Never interfere with an enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.”
None of these setbacks, though, are likely to impair Ackman’s ability to raise capital from investors, says Peltz. “He has a long-term track record that’s pretty good. Investors like him. He’s a little different than the typical hedge fund manager,” Peltz says.
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