Bill Ackman takes a hit from Herbalife short as stock soars

Sunday, 08 October 2017, 12:33:23 AM. Bill Ackman found himself cornered and squeezed on Friday as shares of Herbalife soared to a nearly three-year high. The maker of nutritional shakes jumped 11.2 percent, to $75.25, after it reveale…

Bill Ackman found himself cornered and squeezed on Friday as shares of Herbalife soared to a nearly three-year high.

The maker of nutritional shakes jumped 11.2 percent, to $75.25, after it revealed its recent offer to repurchase up to $600 million of outstanding shares was under-subscribed.

The lack of interest in the $68-a-share tender could suggest that shareholders believe the stock is heading higher.

But for Ackman, whose Pershing Square hedge fund placed a $1 billion short bet on the nutritional supplement company in 2012, the stock’s rapid rise was a punch in the gut.

Ackman has long maintained that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme and its stock would fall to zero.

A review of the company by the Federal Trade Commission last year ripped its business practices — but left it standing and able to make changes.

The FTC stopped short of calling the company a pyramid scheme.

The stock’s rise Friday to its highest close since January 2014 was a costly reminder that Ackman — so far — has bet wrong.

“We estimate that short sellers had a single-day paper loss of $145 million, with an 11.2 percent jump in Herbalife shares today,” Matthew Unterman, director at financial analytics firm S3 Partners, told The Post.

And the pain for Ackman may only get worse.

Short-sellers pay interest to borrow the stock they hold short. As investor demand for the stock increases, so do the interest rates.

“We are seeing borrow rates to short Herbalife shares spike significantly on the back of the self-tender results, with borrow rates in the double digits now,” Unterman said.

And with Herbalife repurchasing 7 percent of the company’s outstanding shares, there is less available to borrow.

“Hedge funds with open shorts will now pay even more to maintain their short exposure as liquidity in Herbalife tightens with fewer shares outstanding,” Unterman said.

But for all Ackman’s pain, Friday’s rally gave his sometime-nemesis, billionaire Carl Icahn, reasons to smile.

Icahn had a 24.3 percent stake in Herbalife prior to the buyback. Friday’s action created a paper gain of roughly $218 million for the investor.

Icahn also saw his stake in Herbalife grow by 2 percentage points as the number of shares outstanding fell.

Herbalife announced its tender offer in August after it revealed that it had been in discussions to go private.

Pershing Square declined to comment.

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