Bill Ackman’s quest to expose Herbalife Ltd.started with a tip from a friend. The call came from a reporter turned stock researcher, who had penned a book about the hedge fund manager’s last big short and was now telling him that Herbalife smelled like a pyramid scheme.
The discussion 18 months ago grew into a research project that pulled in much of Ackman’s team, two law firms and forensic accountants. On Dec. 20, Ackman, 46, went public with a three- hour presentation, accusing Herbalife of using inflated pricing, misleading sales information and a complicated incentive structure to hide a pyramid scheme.
The shares HLF plunged 32 percent in the next three days. Amid heated denials from the company, which is preparing to lay out its case at an investor conference in New York on Jan. 10, the shares had by Jan. 4 rebounded 42 percent from their post-Ackman closing low of $26.06. Ackman, an activist investor who has lobbied for shakeups at companies from Target Corp.to Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., is just getting started with Herbalife.