How to make money in these days: Sell short a company's stock then hire lobbyists to get the government
Nearly a year ago, the activist investor Bill Ackman made a huge bet: that investors, if informed that a $7 billion global company with a 30-year track record was a fraud, would run for the exits.
The wager was a $1 billion short against Herbalife, a multilevel marketing operation that recruits distributors to sell weight-loss products. Last December, Ackman made the case to an investor conference that the company was actually a massive pyramid scheme, preying on "distributors" who pay to sign up before realizing that the product is too expensive to sell. Eventually, he implied, it would collapse under its own weight.
The stock dropped about 38 percent in a week, but that wasn't enough for Ackman, who'd set a price target of zero. And then, something terrifying happened: The stock started rising again. Activist investor Carl Icahn took the other side of the bet by becoming the company's single biggest shareholder in January. . . .
But really, he's got basically one chance at salvation: governmental interference.
At first, that looked like a viable option; the Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation almost immediately after Ackman launched his crusade. But the regulator hasn't been heard from since, even as it shut down another pyramid scheme and issued an alert about what such schemes look like. So Ackman has brought the full court press to Washington, hiring lobbyists to counter Herbalife's own, and meeting with the enforcers to make his case.
"There's reasons we're still short the stock. If we didn't think [regulatory authorities]would take action, we would've given up a long time ago," Ackman said in an interview in D.C, on Tuesday. "We've got an unbelievable amount of resources on this." . . . .