High stakes clash for nutrition company Herbalife

Herbalife shares rose yesterday after billionaire Carl Icahn bought more than 2.3m shares in the nutrition company.

Herbalife is also the high-profile target of fellow billionaire activist investor Bill Ackman.

The stock advanced up to 3.5% after falling last week when Mr Ackman said Mr Icahn was looking to sell his stake, not increase it. 

The comment led to about 10.4 million shares trading hands, or more than six times its daily average.

Mr Icahn waited until after Friday’s market close to announce that he had added 2.3 million shares to his stake.

The two investing heavyweights have been publicly sparring over the fate of the company. 

Mr Ackman has called it a pyramid scheme, and his hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management, is nearing the four-year anniversary of its well-publicized $1bn (€890m) bet against the Los Angeles-based maker of fitness and nutrition products.

Mr Icahn, who raised his Herbalife stake to 21%, has been on the other side of the debate since 2013. 

He has been publicly assailing Mr Ackman’s attempted evisceration of Herbalife — on stages, television, in documentaries and online — since a January 2013 CNBC phone-in fight. 

That July, Mr Icahn told a conference he decided to look into Herbalife because he wasn’t “a great fan” of Mr Ackman.

A year later at the same Delivering Alpha event in New York, both billionaires took the stage together and said their feud was over. 

Days later, Mr Ackman delivered an emotional, nearly four-hour anti-Herbalife presentation that backfired — lifting the shares 25%. Mr Ackman sent Herbalife shares tumbling on Friday when he said Mr Icahn was looking to ditch his holdings.

In an interview with CNBC, Mr Ackman said investment bank Jefferies Group approached him about buying a portion of Mr Icahn’s Herbalife shares earlier this month.

He said he considered buying some of Mr Icahn’s stock if it would help get Mr Icahn out of his position. 

Mr Ackman later said he didn’t buy any of Mr Icahn’s stock and would have quickly sold the shares if he had.

“Completely contrary to what Bill Ackman stated on television today, I have never given Jefferies an order to sell any of our Herbalife shares”, Mr Icahn said in his statement, in which he disclosed adding to his holdings.

“I continue to believe in Herbalife: It’s a great model that creates a great number of jobs for people.” n Bloomberg


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