Bill Ackman’s SPAC Gets Sued
The lawsuit could have far-reaching consequences for the entire blank-check industry.
An existential question for SPACs
Pershing Square Tontine Holdings, the special purpose acquisition company run by the billionaire hedge-fund investor Bill Ackman, got sued this morning in a novel case that could have far-reaching implications for the SPAC industry.
The case, which is being argued by Robert Jackson, a former S.E.C. commissioner, and John Morley, a law professor at Yale, contends that Ackman’s SPAC isn’t an operating company, but is actually an investment company like Ackman’s funds, which should be regulated by the Investment Company Act of 1940. If certain SPACs were regulated as investment companies, much of the industry could be affected because it would make it harder for anyone in the investment business to participate in a SPAC.
SPACs are already under fire from regulators who have pledged to tighten protections for investors, and they face a rising number of class-action lawsuits by aggrieved shareholders. Around 600 SPACs have gone public over the past year and SPAC-linked merger deals worth more than $700 billion have been announced over that time. Securities law experts have raised questions about whether SPACs are used as a means to avoid the more onerous rules that apply to investment funds. The lawsuit highlights this increasingly common complaint.
To recap, a SPAC is a public shell company formed to acquire and operate a private company. This lets a private company go public with less scrutiny than a traditional I.P.O. Many SPACs are started by professional investors with investment businesses that contribute services to the SPAC, like Ackman and his hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management.
“Investing in securities is all the company has ever done since its I.P.O.,” the complaint says of Pershing Square’s SPAC. Simply buying some stock is not what a SPAC is meant to do, the lawsuit argues. Yet Ackman negotiated a stock deal between his SPAC and Universal Music Group. (He originally pursued a merger.) The arrangementwas complicated, with the Pershing Square SPAC spending $4 billion to buy a 10 percent stake in the company, which was already being taken public by its parent, Vivendi. The S.E.C. questioned the terms, which raised concerns that Ackman’s SPAC was not a SPAC at all.
A moot point? Ackman abandoned the Universal Music deal last month, admitting in a letter to investors that he had underestimated regulatory and shareholder resistance to the complex transaction. But the new lawsuit asks the court to declare that Pershing Square’s SPAC is an investment company, and to find that it was deliberately mischaracterized to avoid legal requirements to the detriment of investors. The suit is also seeking to rescind contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to members of the company’s board.
If the suit succeeds, it could make professional investors who have found SPACs attractive wary of potential legal challenges, chilling the market. Proving damages will be difficult because the Universal Music deal was scrapped. But more important, perhaps, the case attempts to address underlying issues about the motivations of some SPAC sponsors. And its analysis of the meaning of investing in securities — part of any M.&A. deal — raises existential questions about the purpose and treatment of SPACs in general.
The irony is that Pershing Square’s SPAC was more investor-friendly than most. It was structured so that its sponsors would only be paid if its deal proved successful over time. Most other SPACs give sponsors shares and warrants that pay out regardless of the performance of the company after a merger.
Ackman declined a request for comment on the suit.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Economists fear that the Delta variant is slowing the economic recovery. They expect a drop in retail sales in July, especially for travel-related spending, in numbers released later today. Covid hospitalizations in some states are at a high, and the number of hospitals with nearly full I.C.U.s has doubled in recent weeks.
Covid booster shots for Americans may start next month. As caseloads surge, the Biden administration is likely to offer an additional vaccine dose to nursing-home residents, health care workers and emergency workers first, with the aim of boosters for most Americans eight months after a second dose.
China’s internet companies brace for another regulatory blitz. Shares in Alibaba, Tencent and JD.com dropped after China’s market regulator published draft rules that would tighten the government’s grip over technology platforms, continuing a crackdown.
Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin is suing NASA. Bezos’s firm said the space agency followed flawed processes in awarding a $3 billion lunar-lander contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX. NASA is Blue Origins’ biggest customer; observers say Bezos is risking the lawsuit because he sees the lunar project as a key to future work.
Michael Burry is betting against Cathie Wood. Burry, the investor whose anticipation of the U.S. subprime crash was made famous by “The Big Short,” revealed an investment in put options on the Ark Innovation E.T.F.. Ark is run by Cathie Wood, a tech bull with a cult following whose fund soared on investments in Tesla and other high-flying assets but has seen choppier performance of late. Burry doesn’t understand the fundamentals of the “innovation space,” she said.
Women’s health gets its first unicorn
Maven Clinic, a women’s and family health care provider, will announce today that it has raised $110 million in funding at a valuation of more than $1 billion, making it the first U.S.-based company in the sector to achieve “unicorn” status.
Founded in 2014, Maven provides a single telehealth platform for fertility specialists, adoption coaches, doulas, lactation consultants, pediatricians, child care providers and others. The company does the bulk of its business as an employee benefits vendor for companies including Bumble, L’Oréal, Microsoft and Snap.
So far, Maven says it has worked with more than 10 million women and families, and it has grown rapidly during the pandemic: Since March last year its membership has soared by 400 percent.
Maven’s recent growth spurt was driven partly by an embrace of telemedicine, said Kate Ryder, the company’s founder and C.E.O. But companies are also increasingly focused on supporting and retaining employees with families, she said, especially since the pandemic has exposed weaknesses in child care systems and inequities in health care. “Covid accelerated all digital health companies forward,” Ryder said, and people are also now “starting to prioritize health equity, women’s health and family health.”
About 15 percent of in-person referrals through the platform are for child care support. Since March last year, about a quarter of the appointments scheduled were with mental health providers — an indication of the stresses and struggles of working parents. The financing will help Maven expand its coverage to include those on Medicaid, Ryder said.
Investors in this round include Dragoneer Investment Group, Lux Capital and Oprah Winfrey.
“It did not have to end this way. I am disgusted by the lack of any planning by Afghan leadership. Saw at airport them leave without informing others.”
— Ajmal Ahmady, the head of the central bank of Afghanistan, in a harrowing Twitter thread recounting his last few days in the country.
The failed promise of fully autonomous cars
Yesterday, the federal government’s top auto-safety agency announced the broadest investigation yet into Tesla’s assisted-driving technology. Neal Boudette, who covers the auto industry for The Times, explains why fully self-driving cars, which not that long ago seemed to be just around the corner, now appear further away.
In 2016, Ford promised that it would be producing a car with no pedals and no steering wheel by 2021. Waymo, the autonomous car company owned by Google’s parent, Alphabet, has been testing a driverless ride service in the Phoenix area since 2017. And just two years ago, Elon Musk said that a million Tesla robo-taxis would soon roam the streets of American cities. Tesla even sells an upgrade right now called Full Self-Driving.
But none of these projects have gone as expected. Ford has shifted its strategy. Waymo is still testing but remains years from a large-scale commercial service. Tesla hasn’t produced a single autonomous car and has quietly acknowledged to California regulators that its Full Self Driving isn’t capable of full self-driving.
So what happened? Developing a car that can drive with no help from a human is far, far harder than the auto industry’s top experts once thought.
It’s one thing to use cameras, radar and computer chips to make a car that can stay in its lane and keep a safe distance on a highway. But it’s a vastly greater challenge to teach a computerized system to safely deal with intersections, cross traffic and construction zones, as well as drivers, pedestrians and cyclists who only sometimes follow the rules of the road.
Autonomous systems still struggle to recognize unforeseen dangers — a car suddenly changing lanes, or parked somewhere unexpected — and then choose a safe response. While driver error causes the majority of the nearly 40,000 roadway deaths that occur yearly in the U.S. each year, humans still cope better with surprises.
The risks of allowing cars to drive themselves can be seen in the fatal accidents that have come to light recently. In one 2019 crash, a Tesla operating with the company’s Autopilot system engaged came to an intersection and slammed into a parked car, killing a woman standing nearby. That accident occurred not because Autopilot isn’t capable of autonomous driving, but because Autopilot failed at the most basic function of any safety system. It simply failed to recognize an object and stop before hitting it.
Read Neal’s story about the 2019 crash.
THE SPEED READ
Tim Hortons China, an arm of the Canadian coffee shop, is going public in a $1.7 billion SPAC deal. (Bloomberg)
Hachette has agreed to buy Workman, one of America’s largest independent publishers. (NYT)
The German publisher Axel Springer is reportedly in talks to buy a stake in Politico, deepening its partnership with the news site. (WSJ)
Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, is preparing to be swallowed by UniCredit after performing poorly in a stress test. (NYT)
Janet Yellen will have another opportunity to reshape the Fed, this time from the outside, when Jay Powell’s term as chair expires in February. (NYT)
New Zealand announced a three-day national lockdown after finding one coronavirus case. (NYT)
“A Minimum Wage Can Create Jobs” (Times Opinion)
Best of the rest
The executive brought in to remake Twitter’s culture has clashed with workers over his blunt style. (NYT)
State Street, the firm behind the “Fearless Girl” statue outside the N.Y.S.E., is vacating its two New York City offices. (WSJ)
As African countries wait for doses they’ve ordered, Covid shots produced by Johnson & Johnson in South Africa are being exported to Europe. (NYT)
“My Years on Wall Street Showed Me Why You Can’t Make a Deal on Zoom” (Times Opinion)
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In this article, we will take a look at the 7 stocks that activist investor and billionaire Bill Ackman is buying. If you want to skip our detailed analysis on Bill Ackman's history, investment philosophy, and hedge fund performance, go directly to Activist Investor and Billionaire Bill Ackman is Buying These 2 Stocks.
Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman is one of the most famous activist investors in the US. Mr. Ackman runs the hedge fund called Pershing Square Capital Holdings, of which he is the chief executive officer and which he founded in 2003. Pershing Square Capital Holdings is headquartered in New York City, and as of the end of the second quarter, it has a portfolio value of $10.7 billion. The executive is an alumnus of Harvard University, having received both his Bachelor's in Arts and Master's of Business Administration from the prestigious Ivy League university.
As compared to some of the other multi-billion-dollar hedge funds out there, Pershing Square Capital Holdings has a small portfolio. Mr. Ackman's top picks in this portfolio include well-known hospitality and retail names such as Lowe's Companies, Inc. (NYSE:LOW), Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG), and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. (NYSE:HLT).
Bill Ackman of Pershing Square
To understand Mr. Ackman's trading strategy, we look through the 13-F filings of his hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management. This lets us gauge the dollar amount of investment made in each company and the number of shares held, revealing his sentiment about the companies. This information is supplemented with earnings reports and analyst sentiments for each stock, alongside our hedge fund sentiment analysis.
Why should we pay attention to Bill Ackman’s stock picks? Insider Monkey’s research was able to identify in advance a select group of hedge fund holdings that outperformed the S&P 500 ETFs by more than 86 percentage points since March 2017. Between March 2017 and July 2021, our monthly newsletter’s stock picks returned 186.1%, vs. 100.1% for the SPY. Our stock picks outperformed the market by 86 percentage points (see the details here). That’s why we believe hedge fund sentiment is an extremely useful indicator that investors should pay attention to. You can subscribe to our free newsletter on our homepage to receive our stories in your inbox.
Activist Investor and Billionaire Bill Ackman is Buying These 7 Stocks
7. Domino's Pizza, Inc. (NYSE:DPZ)
Bill Ackman’s Stake Value: $951.3 million
Percentage of Bill Ackman’s 13F Portfolio: 8.8%
Number of Hedge Fund Holders: 31
Domino's Pizza, Inc. (NYSE:DPZ) is one of the oldest pizza restaurants in the world, since it was founded in 1960 in the United States. It now operates in thousands of locations worldwide and focuses on three operating segments namely franchises, supply chain and stores.
Pershing Square held 2 million Domino's Pizza, Inc. (NYSE:DPZ) shares by the second quarter, worth $951 million and representing 8.8% of the fund's portfolio. In the same period, 31 of the 873 hedge funds polled by Insider Monkey held a stake in the company. In its second quarter, the company reported non-GAAP earnings per share (EPS) of $3.12 and revenue of $1.03 billion, beating analyst expectations on both counts.
In an October investor note, MKM analyst Brett Levy raised the company's price target to $515 and set a Neutral rating on the stock, sharing macroeconomic concerns.
Domino's Pizza, Inc. (NYSE:DPZ)'s largest shareholder after Pershing Square is Jim Simons' Renaissance Technologies, who owns 1.2 million of the company's shares that are worth $572 million.
Domino's Pizza, Inc. (NYSE:DPZ) joins Mr. Ackman's other top picks including hospitality and retail names such as Lowe's Companies, Inc. (NYSE:LOW), Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG) and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. (NYSE:HLT).
In a second quarter 2021 letter, Pershing Square had the following to say about the company:
“In March, PSH initiated an investment in Domino’s Pizza. Domino’s is the number one pizza company in the world and, along with its franchisees, operates more than 18,000 stores globally. As 98% of the system is franchised, the company generates most of its profits from high-margin brand royalty fees, and the balance from company-owned stores and a supply chain business that supplies North American franchisees.
We have long admired Domino’s due to its compelling customer value proposition, best-in-class digital infrastructure, consistent track record, exceptional unit economics and world-class management team. Domino’s menu in the U.S. has featured its core $5.99 and $7.99 everyday value platforms for more than a decade, which are amongst the lowest-cost meals for a family of four. The company generates 75% of its sales through digital channels – by far the highest in the industry. Ownership of the leading digital and delivery infrastructure enables Domino’s to consistently deliver an outstanding customer experience as well as attractive economics to drivers, franchisees, and shareholders, all without using third-party delivery providers in the U.S. This strong value proposition and efficiency have led to consistent same-store sales growth of highsingle-digits in the U.S., and mid-single-digits internationally."
6. The Howard Hughes Corporation (NYSE:HHC)
Bill Ackman's Stake Value: $1.3 billion Percentage of Bill Ackman's 13F Portfolio: 12.25% Number of Hedge Fund Holders: 25
The Howard Hughes Corporation (NYSE:HHC) is an American real estate company that operates across several segments. These include both residential and commercial properties, and the company does this through four operating segments. It both acquires and develops real estate properties.
Bill Ackman's Pershing Square, by the end of the second quarter, had held 13.4 million The Howard Hughes Corporation (NYSE:HHC) shares that were worth $1.3 billion. Out of the 873 hedge funds polled by Insider Monkey, 25 held a stake in the company during the same time period.
In a second quarter 2021 letter, Pershing Square said:
"HHC’s MPCs in Houston, Texas, and Las Vegas, Nevada, are situated in tax-advantaged states which are beneficiaries of the continuing trend of out-of-state migration from California and other higher-tax states. New home sales in HHC’s MPCs, a leading indicator of future demand, increased 23% in the second quarter, and show signs of continued strength.
HHC’s NOI increased 20% sequentially relative to the first quarter, and 42% compared to the prior year, driven by a strong recovery across retail and hospitality assets which were most impacted by COVID 19. Retail rent collections have steadily improved to 80% benefiting from a rebound in foot traffic and strong leasing activity in the company’s retail footprint in Downtown Summerlin and Ward Village. Likewise, hospitality NOI in the second quarter substantially improved from breakeven profitability in Q1 as overall occupancy levels in HHC’s hotels increased by nine percentage points."
5. Restaurant Brands International Inc. (NYSE:QSR)
Bill Ackman’s Stake Value: $1.53 billion
Percentage of Bill Ackman’s 13F Portfolio: 14.25%
Number of Hedge Fund Holders: 22
Restaurant Brands International Inc. (NYSE:QSR) is an American food chain that is the owner of some of the world's most popular fast food restaurants. These restaurants include Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes. It is a multinational company that operates in more than 100 countries all over the globe.
By the end of the second quarter, Pershing Square held 23.6 million shares of Restaurant Brands International Inc. (NYSE:QSR) worth $1.5 billion and representing 14.25% of its portfolio. At the same time, 22 of the 873 hedge funds polled by Insider Monkey held a stake in the company. In its second-quarter earnings, the company reported non-GAAP EPS of $0.77 and revenue of $1.44 billion, beating analyst estimates on both counts. In a September note, Loop Capital set a $65 price target for the company and set its rating to hold.
Restaurant Brands International Inc. (NYSE:QSR) largest stakeholder is Mubadala Investment's MIC Capital Partners, with 672,998 shares worth $43 billion. Restaurant Brands International Inc. (NYSE:QSR) joins Mr. Ackman's other top picks including hospitality and retail names such as Lowe's Companies, Inc. (NYSE:LOW), Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG) and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. (NYSE:HLT). Pershing Square said the following about the company in a second-quarter letter:
“QSR’s franchised business model is a high-quality, capital-light, growing annuity that generates high-margin brand royalty fees from three leading brands: Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes. The company has nimbly navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to make progress on returning its brands to sustainable long-term growth.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has bolstered its safety procedures and is accelerating its digital investments by expanding its delivery footprint, modernizing its drive-thru experience, increasing mobile ordering adoption, and improving its loyalty programs. As the global recovery continues to be uneven, these initiatives will allow the company and its franchisees to serve customers in a safe and reliable manner.
Each of the company’s brands are at various stages in recovery, with Burger King and Popeyes having returned to growth, while Tim Hortons is well on its way to recovering. On a two-year basis, same-store-sales grew 2.4% at Burger King and 24.4% at Popeyes during the last quarter. Meanwhile, Tim Hortons in Canada has improved to a mid-single digit decline in July, with each month during the second quarter showing sequential improvement. Tim Hortons’ slower recovery is largely driven by strict COVID-19 restrictions in Canada, which were only recently lifted in large provinces such as Ontario. In rural and suburban parts of Canada where restrictions were lifted earlier, Tim Hortons has already returned to growth. Given the habitual nature of Tim Hortons’ customer base, the recovery in sales will be tied to mobility and reopening.
The company expects to return to its historical mid-single-digit unit growth this year, and recently announced expansions for both Tim Hortons and Popeyes in large international markets. As underlying sales trends at each of its brands continue to improve, and as the impact from COVID-19 restrictions ease, we believe Restaurant Brands’ share price will more accurately reflect our view of its improving business fundamentals.”
4. Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. (NYSE:HLT)
Bill Ackman’s Stake Value: $1.54 billion Percentage of Bill Ackman’s 13F Portfolio: 14.37% Number of Hedge Fund Holders: 22 Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. (NYSE:HLT) is a renowned hospitality chain that is headquartered in the United States. It is best known for its Hilton hotels and it either manages, offers franchises or directly owns its properties. The company is a multinational company and owns thousands of properties in more than 100 countries. By the end of the second quarter of this year, Bill Ackman's Pershing Square held 12.7 million shares of Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. (NYSE:HLT) with the stake equaling $1.5 billion and representing 14.25% of its portfolio. At the same time, 79 of the 873 funds polled by Insider Monkey held a stake in the company. During its financial report for the second quarter, Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. (NYSE:HLT) reported non-GAAP earnings per share (EPS) of $0.56 and revenue of $1.3 billion, beating analyst estimates for both. In an analyst note shared in October, Loop Capital analyst Alton Slump set a price target of $80 for the stock. The company's biggest hedge fund holder after Pershing Square is Natixis Global Asset Management's Harris Associates, who holds 9.4 million shares that are roughly worth $1.14 billion.
Pershing Square in its second quarter investor letter highlighted that:
“While the hotel industry has been extremely negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hilton has done an excellent job navigating industry volatility, a testament to the company’s high-quality, asset light, high-margin business model and superb management team. From the moment the pandemic began, Hilton’s management team took decisive actions to ensure the company not only managed through what it knew would be a challenging period, but also positioned the company to generate improved margins, cash flows and investment returns once the business recovers to pre-COVID-19 demand levels.”
3. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG)
Bill Ackman's Stake Value: $1.6 billion Percentage of Bill Ackman's 13F Portfolio: 15.72% Number of Hedge Fund Holders: 35
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG) is an American restaurant company headquartered in California that is known for its unique menu items that offer Mexican foods. The company has outlets not only in the United States but all over the world at thousands of locations. Pershing Square had held 1.08 million Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG) shares by the end of the second quarter that were worth $1.6 billion and represented 15.72% of its portfolio. Out of the 873 hedge funds polled by Insider Monkey, 35 held a stake in the company during the same time period. At the end of its second quarter, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG) posted GAAP EPS of $6.60 and revenue of $1.89 billion, beating analysts on both counts. In an October investor note Wells Fargo raised its price target to $2,180, citing a strong sales growth. In Pershing Square's second quarter 2021 letter, it mentioned the company and stated that:
"Chipotle’s track record of superb performance has continued in 2021, driven by ongoing strength in digital sales and a recovery of in-store ordering. Digital gains achieved during the pandemic have proven resilient, with digital sales growing 11% in Q2 compared with the prior year, highlighting the limited overlap with in-person occasions. The company has now recovered about 70% of its pre-pandemic in-restaurant sales volumes, with the opportunity to drive these sales meaningfully higher once more schools and workplaces reopen after Labor Day. Near-term performance is accelerating, with management forecasting same-store sales growth from 2019 levels in the low- to mid-20% range in Q3, up from 18% growth last quarter."
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Disclosure: None. Activist Investor and Billionaire Bill Ackman is Buying These 7 Stocks is originally published on Insider Monkey.
Bill Ackman may end up liquidating his special purpose acquisition company, but his hedge fund firm just had its best day ever: a $1.6 billion haul.
Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital made that windfall Tuesday, when its $4 billion stake in Universal Music ahead of its initial public offering paid off after shares rose 40 percent on the opening.
Pershing Square's hedge funds put $2.9 billion into the deal, and Ackman was able to raise another $1.1 billion in a new co-investment vehicle for the rest of the 10 percent stake, making Universal the biggest position for his firm.
His biggest fund, Pershing Square Holdings, made an estimated 9 percentage points (gross) on the gain. That will more than make up for the losses it is carrying on Ackman’s SPAC, Pershing Square Tontine Holdings, based on the value of the warrants it holds. (As of August 17, Tontine was Pershing Square’s biggest loser for the year, accounting for 6.4 percentage points of losses and dragging down the fund’s overall performance, according to its semi-annual financial statement.)
Now Pershing Square Holdings, which was up 7.7 percent net for the year as of Sept. 14, has taken off: It is up an estimated 18 percent (gross) for the year.
Ackman, who has a 25 percent stake in Pershing Square Holdings, and collects incentive fees as well, made an estimated $600 million on the day.
He declined to comment. But the huge windfall for his hedge fund isn’t what he had in mind when he began talking with Universal parent Vivendi, the French conglomerate, last November. At the time, the plan was for Tontine to invest in the company.
The deal was complicated and unusual for a SPAC because it wouldn’t have ended in a merger, and the SPAC would have had money left over.
After Vivendi announced a deal had been struck with Tontine to take a 10 percent stake in Universal ahead of a spinoff of 60 percent of the company, Tontine’s stock sank. Within weeks the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said it would not approve the SPAC’s plans, and the Tontine board abandoned the proposal.
“It was a dagger in the heart,” Ackman told CNBC the day of that announcement.
At the time, Ackman said his hedge fund firm would make the investment to keep his commitment to Vivendi. To do so, he sold Pershing Square’s stake in Agilent to raise cash, then went out and launched another vehicle to raise the rest of the money required.
Had the SEC let the deal go through, however, Tontine shareholders would have been rewarded handsomely. The complicated structure would have had Tontine invest $14.50 of the $20 per share of the SPAC in Universal, so the 40 percent gain would have amounted to about $6 per share, on top of the remaining $5.50 cash shell.
That alone would have put Tontine’s value per share at $26. The structure also would have included warrants on a new security, called a SPARC, for special purpose acquisition rights corporation. It’s almost impossible to value those — the SEC has yet to approve the new security — but they could have been worth a few bucks on their own.
Instead, within weeks of the SEC’s action, Tontine fell below its net-asset value of $20, and Ackman said he might liquidate the fund and give investors their money back along with warrants on the SPARC if the SEC will approve it. The SPARC is different from a SPAC because investors won’t have to put in money upfront, as they do in a SPAC. The New York Stock Exchange has submitted the rule change to the SEC, which is reviewing it.
The whole process has left many retail investors disgruntled — as well as poorer. But some see the Universal IPO as vindication of Ackman’s deal-making prowess.
“I still think the price action of [Universal] shows that Bill is a deal maker and I still think he will find a deal that we like for PSTH,” an investor who goes by the Twitter handle of Mattress_King wrote Institutional Investor in a direct message.
“I also want to comment that the new SPARC structure could be a game changer — extremely optimistic about that,” he added.
American hedge fund manager and investor
William Albert Ackman (born May 11, 1966) is an American investor and hedge fund manager. He is the founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, a hedge fund management company. His investment approach makes him an activist investor.
Early life and education
Ackman was raised in Chappaqua, New York, the son of Ronnie I. (née Posner) and Lawrence David Ackman, the chairman of a New York real estate financing firm, Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group. He is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. In 1988, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude in Social Studies from Harvard College. His thesis was "Scaling the Ivy Wall: the Jewish and Asian American Experience in Harvard Admissions." In 1992, he received an MBA from Harvard Business School.
In 1992, Ackman founded the investment firm Gotham Partners with fellow Harvard graduate David P. Berkowitz. The firm made small investments in public companies. In 1995, Ackman partnered with the insurance and real estate firm Leucadia National to bid for Rockefeller Center. Although they did not win the deal, the bid generated interest in Gotham from investors: three years later, Gotham had $500 million in assets under management (AUM). By 2002, Gotham had become entrenched in litigation with various external shareholders who also owned an interest in the companies in which Gotham invested.
Despite an ongoing probe of his trading activities by New York state and federal authorities, in 2002 Ackman researched MBIA in order to challenge Standard & Poor's AAA rating of its bonds. He was charged fees for copying 725,000 pages of statements regarding the financial services company as part of his law firm's compliance with a subpoena. Ackman called for a division between MBIA's structured finance business and its municipal bond insurance business.
He argued that MBIA was legally restricted from trading billions of dollars of credit default swap (CDS) protection that MBIA had sold against various mortgage-backed CDOs, and was using a second corporation, LaCrosse Financial Products, which MBIA described as an "orphaned transformer." Ackman bought credit default swaps against MBIA corporate debt and sold them for a large profit during the financial crisis of 2007–2008. He reported covering his short position on MBIA on January 16, 2009, according to the 13D filed with the SEC.
In 2003, a feud developed between Ackman and Carl Icahn over a deal involving Hallwood Realty. They agreed to a "shmuckinsurance" arrangement, under which, if Icahn were to sell the shares within 3 years and made a profit of 10% or more, he and Ackman would split the proceeds. Icahn paid $80 per share. In April 2004, HRPT Property Trust acquired Hallwood, paying $136.16 per share. Under the terms of the "contract", Icahn owed Ackman and his investors about $4.5 million. Icahn refused to pay. Ackman sued. Eight years later, Icahn was forced to pay the $4.5 million plus 9% interest per year, by court order.
Pershing Square Capital Management
In 2004, with $54 million from his personal funds and from his former business partner Leucadia National, Ackman started Pershing Square Capital Management. In 2005, Pershing bought a significant share in the fast food chain Wendy's International and successfully pressured it to sell its Tim Hortons doughnut chain. Wendy's spun off Tim Hortons through an IPO in 2006 and raised $670 million for Wendy's investors. After a dispute over executive succession that led Ackman to sell his shares at a substantial profit, the stock price collapsed, raising criticism that the sale of Wendy's fastest-growing unit left the company in a weaker market position. Ackman blamed the poor performance on their new CEO.
In December 2007, his fund held a 10% stake in Target Corporation, valued at $4.2 billion, through the purchase of stock and derivatives. In December 2010, his funds held a 38% stake in Borders Group and on December 6, 2010, Ackman indicated he would finance a buyout of Barnes & Noble for US$900M.
At a panel meeting discussing Bernie Madoff in January 2009, Ackman defended his longtime friend Ezra Merkin, saying, "Has Ezra committed a crime? I don't think so," and "I think [Merkin] is an honest person, an intelligent person, an interesting person, a smart investor." In April 2009, Merkin was charged with civil fraud by the State of New York for "secretly steering $2.4 billion in client money into Bernard Madoff's Ponzi fraud without their permission." A settlement was reached in June 2012 requiring Merkin to pay $405 million to victims including the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.
In December 2012, Pershing Square Capital Management launched a new closed-end fund called Pershing Square Holdings, which raised $3 billion in an October 2014 IPO on Amsterdam's Euronext stock market. As a closed-end fund valued at $6.7 billion, PSH was designed as a permanent capital vehicle from which investors would not be able to directly withdraw funds. PSH reported 17.1% in returns since inception (Dec. 2012 – November 2017) under Ackman's management, 80% below the S&P 500.
Ackman started buying J. C. Penney shares in 2010, paying an average of $22 for 39 million shares or 18% of J.C. Penney's stock. In August 2013, Ackman's two-year campaign to transform the department store came to an abrupt end after he decided to step down from the board following an argument with fellow board members.
In a statement dated August 27, 2013, Pershing Square reported that it had hired Citigroup to liquidate the 39.1 million shares the firm then owned of the Plano, Texas-based department-store chain at a price of $12.90 per share, resulting in a loss of approximately $500 million. In January 2015, LCH Investments named Ackman one of the world's top 20 hedge fund managers after Pershing Square delivered $4.5 billion in net gains for investors in 2014, bringing the fund's lifetime gains to $11.6 billion since its launch in 2004 through year-end 2014.
On April 27, 2016, Ackman, along with Valeant Pharmaceuticals' outgoing CEO, J. Michael Pearson, and the company's former interim CEO, Howard Schiller, testified before the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging. The testifying panel answered questions related to the committee's concerns about repercussions to patients and the health care system posed by Valeant's business model and controversial pricing practices. Ackman opened his testimony saying, "As a shareholder of Valeant, I recognize my investment was an… endorsement of Valeant’s strategy." Ackman sold his remaining 27.2 million share position in Valeant to the investment bank Jefferies for about $300 million in March 2017. It has been estimated that the total cost of the position, including direct stock purchases and 9.1 million shares that were underlying stock options traded with Nomura Global Financial Products, was $4.6 billion, leading to a substantial loss.
According to Forbes Magazine, Ackman has a net worth of US$1.9 billion as of July 25, 2020, ranking him No. 391 on the Forbes 400. According to Institutional Investor, Ackman made an estimated $1.4 billion in 2020.
In December 2012, Ackman issued a research report that was critical of Herbalife's multi-level marketing business model, calling it a pyramid scheme. Ackman disclosed that his hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management, sold short the company's shares directly (not with derivatives) starting in May 2012, causing Herbalife's stock price to drop.
At an investor conference in January 2013, the company released results of a Nielsen Research International survey showing 73% of Herbalife distributors never intended to make money by reselling the product. Instead, they wanted to buy products at a discount for personal use. To make the distinction clearer, the company announced on its June 2013 earnings call that it would begin referring to these discount buyers as "members" rather than "distributors."
A few months after Ackman's initial comments, billionaire investor Carl Icahn challenged Ackman's comment in a public spat on national TV. Shortly thereafter, Icahn bought shares of Herbalife International. As Icahn continued to buy up HLF shares, the stock price continued to show strength. By May 2013, Icahn owned 16.5% of the company. That number had declined to 6.4% by November 2013.
In 2014, Ackman spent $50 million on a public relations campaign against Herbalife, which was designed to hurt the company's stock price.
Former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) called on Congress to investigate Ackman's use of public relations and regulatory pressure in his short campaign, and Harvey L. Pitt, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has questioned whether Ackman aims to move the price rather than spread the truth. In 2014, Senator Ed Markey wrote letters to federal regulators, including the FTC and the SEC, demanding they open an investigation into Herbalife's business practices. The day the letters were released, the company's stock dropped 14%. Markey later told the Boston Globe that his staff had not informed him that Ackman stood to benefit financially from his actions and defended the letters as a matter of consumer rights.
In March 2014, the New York Times reported that Ackman had employed tactics to undermine public confidence in Herbalife to lower its stock price, including pressuring state and federal regulators to investigate the company, paying individuals to travel to and participate in rallies against it, and boosting its spending on donations to nonprofit Latino organizations. According to the article, groups such as the Hispanic Federation and the National Consumers League sent federal regulators numerous letters. "Each person contacted by The Times acknowledged in interviews that they wrote the letters after being lobbied by representatives from Pershing Square, or said they did not remember writing the letters at all. Mr. Ackman's team also then started to make payments totaling about $130,000 to some of these groups, including the Hispanic Federation — money he said was being used to help find victims of Herbalife."
By December 2, 2014, stock prices had fallen nearly 50% to $42.08 from their January 8 high of $83.48. Later that month, Pershing Square Capital released a 2005 Herbalife distributor training session, in which an employee described high turnover rates and implied that the company's business model was not sustainable. According to an unnamed source speaking to the New York Post, the video had previously been subpoenaed by federal investigators. In an interview with Bloomberg, Ackman predicted that the company would experience an "implosion" in 2015 or early 2016, citing federal scrutiny and debt.
On March 12, 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported that prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office and the FBI were investigating whether people hired by Ackman "made false statements about Herbalife's business model to regulators and others in order to spur investigations into the company and lower its stock price." In March 2015, U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer, in Los Angeles, California, dismissed a suit filed by Herbalife investors alleging the company is operating an illegal pyramid scheme. In response to Fischer's ruling, Herbalife stock rose approximately 13%. Herbalife and the FTC reached a settlement agreement in July 2016, ending the agency's investigation into the company. On the day of the settlement, Fortune estimated that Ackman lost $500 million.
Ackman's position on Herbalife led to a discussion on live television with Herbalife supporter Carl Icahn for nearly half an hour on CNBC on January 25, 2013. During the segment, Icahn called Ackman "a crybaby in the schoolyard" and claimed that going public with his short position would eventually force Ackman into the "mother of all short squeezes". On November 22, 2013, Ackman admitted on Bloomberg Television that Pershing Square's open short position in Herbalife was "$400 million to $500 million" in the red, but that he wouldn't be squeezed out and would hold the short "to the end of the earth."
In November 2017, Ackman told Reuters that he had covered his short-sell position, but would continue to bet against Herbalife using put options with no more than 3% of Pershing Square's funds.
On February 28, 2018, Ackman exited his near billion-dollar bet against Herbalife after the company's stock price continued to rise, choosing to build his position in United Technologies instead.
Ahead of the 2020 stock market crash, Ackman hedged Pershing Square's portfolio, risking $27 million to purchase credit protection, insuring the portfolio against steep market losses. The hedge was effective, generating $2.6 billion in less than one month.
On March 18, 2020, in an emotional interview with CNBC, Ackman called upon President Trump for a "30-day shutdown" of the American economy to slow the spread of coronavirus and minimize loss of life and ensuing economic destruction resulting from the shutdown. Ackman warned that without intervention, hotel stocks were “going to zero” and said that America could “end as we know it." He also cautioned U.S. companies to stop stock buyback programs because “hell is coming.”
Ackman later received criticism for actively buying discounted equity stakes in the very companies he was warning could fail; however, Ackman already had realized roughly half of the gains before appearing during the CNBC interview.
In a November 2020 interview, Ackman said that he had grown concerned about COVID-19 because he had seen the film Contagion and offered qualified praise for Trump's presidency, saying that Trump has "done a lot of good. He's done some harm as well".
Pershing Square Tontine Holdings
In June 2020, Ackman's Pershing Square Tontine Holdings, Ltd, filed $3 billion for the largest-ever blank-check company IPO.
Research published at the University of Oxford characterizes Ackman's activities with Canadian Pacific Railway as paradigmatic of "engaged activism", which is longer-term in nature with correlated benefits to the real economy, and distinct from shorter-term "financial activism".
Ackman has said that his most successful investments have always been controversial, and that his first rule of activist investing is to "make a bold call that nobody believes in".
Ackman's investing style has been praised and criticized by U.S. government officials, heads of other hedge funds, various retail investors, and the general public. His most notable market plays include shorting MBIA's bonds during the financial crisis of 2007–2008, his proxy fight with Canadian Pacific Railway, and his stakes in the Target Corporation, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, and Chipotle Mexican Grill. From 2012 to 2018, Ackman held a US$1 billion short against the nutrition company Herbalife, a company he has claimed is a pyramid scheme designed as a multi-level marketing firm. His efforts were reported in the documentary film Betting on Zero.
After weak performance in 2015–2018, Ackman told investors in January 2018 that he was going to go back to basics by cutting staff, ending investor visits that were eating into his time, and hunkering down in the office to do research. As a result of these changes, his firm Pershing Square returned 58.1% in 2019, which Reuters says qualified it as "one of the world’s best performing hedge funds" for 2019.
Ackman has said that he admires short sellers such as Carson Block of Muddy Waters Capital and Andrew Left of Citron Research.
Ackman has given to charitable causes such as the Center for Jewish History, where he spearheaded a successful effort to retire $30 million in debt, personally contributing $6.8 million. This donation and those of Bruce Berkowitz, founder of Fairholme Capital Management, and Joseph Steinberg, president of Leucadia National, were the three largest individual gifts the center has ever received.
Ackman's foundation donated $1.1 million to the Innocence Project in New York City and Centurion Ministries in Princeton, N.J. He is a signatory of The Giving Pledge, committing himself to give away at least 50% of his wealth to charitable causes.
In 2006, Ackman, and then wife Karen, founded the Pershing Square Foundation to support innovation in economic development, education, healthcare, human rights, arts and urban development. The foundation is a major donor to Planned Parenthood. Since its inception, the foundation has committed more than $400 million in grants since 2006. In 2011, the Ackmans were on The Chronicle of Philanthropy's "Philanthropy 50" list of the most generous donors.
In July 2014, Challenged Athletes Foundation, which provides sports equipment to those with physical disabilities, honored Ackman at a gala fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City for helping raise a record $2.3 million.
Ackman endorsed Michael Bloomberg as a prospective candidate for President of the United States in the 2016 presidential election. He is a longtime donor to Democratic candidates and organizations, including Richard Blumenthal, Chuck Schumer, Robert Menendez, the Democratic National Committee, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
On March 15, 2021 he announced that he donated 26.5 million shares in South Korean e-commerce company Coupang, valued at $1.36 billion, to charity.
Ackman married Karen Ann Herskovitz, a landscape architect, on July 10, 1994, and they have three children: Eloise Ackman, Lucy Ackman, and Liza Ackman. On December 22, 2016, it was reported that the couple had separated.
As of 2013, Ackman owned a Gulfstream G550 business jet.
In 2018, Ackman became engaged to Neri Oxman. In January 2019, Oxman and Ackman married at the Central Synagogue in Manhattan, and they had their first child together in spring 2019.
In late 2019, emails obtained by The Boston Globe showed Ackman requesting that the then MIT Media Lab director avoid naming his wife (Oxman) when responding to press inquiries about a $150,000 gift given to her lab in 2015 by Jeffrey Epstein.
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- Shane Parrish (2020). "Bill Ackman: Getting Back Up" (Podcast). Farnam Street's The Knowledge Project. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
Well, at least fuck the textbooks. Tolik twirled, then we drank tea with him and suddenly he offered me to suck. For a ruble.
And we started to fight. Of course he was that still a fighter, stronger and more experienced than me. He only fought every week in front of me. And how many not with me.
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Including these here. The judge looked in bewilderment at the couple sitting in front of her. They definitely did not resemble many of their predecessors. Prominent peasants, tall, powerful, with muscles bulging even through the sleeves, faces like in advertising tourist equipment, and what do they, with huge foreheads.