Pershing Square Herbalife Short Down 49%

Feb 21 2014 | 10:50am ET

Pershing Square Capital Management's short bet against nutritional supplements company Herbalife is its worst-ever investment—for now.

Firm founder William Ackman told clients earlier this month that the $1 billion short is down 49%, making it Pershing Square's biggest loser in its 10-year history. In spite of the huge loss, Ackman isn't giving up on the bet, insisting that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme that will be shut down by regulators.

Ackman did say last year that he had restructured the bet to limit losses, adding earlier this month that the move put Pershing Square in position to make an even bigger profit if Herbalife collapses.

Herbalife is facing some investigative pressure, and today plans to hold a briefing in Washington to educate congressional staffers about direct selling. The event will feature Herbalife CFO John DeSimone.

The briefing comes after Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) called on the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission to open investigations into the company.

In spite of better-than-expected earnings growth, Herbalife shares have fallen this year—but not enough to dislodge it from the cellar of Pershing Square investments. The hedge fund's second-worst investment ever was in J.C. Penney Co., which cost investors 41%.

Ackman exited that position last year, after Penney's fired his hand-picked CEO.

Citigroup is Pershing Square's third-worst investment ever, losing 31%. Other chinks in Ackman's armor include Hong Kong dollar-U.S. dollar options (down 18%), Dr Pepper/Snapple (17%), Borders Group (16%), Simon Property Group (16%), the iTraxx credit default swap index (13%) and a Wells Fargo short (12%).

Ackman told investors Pershing Square's best investment ever was in mall operator General Growth Properties, which earned a 256% return before he closed it this month. Other big wins include Canadian Pacific Railway (up 184%), Fortune Brands (105%), Howard Huges Corp. (85%), MBIA (84%), Wendy's (47%), Sears Roebuck (42%), McDonald's (42%), Procter & Gamble (38%) and Wachovia (35%).

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